If perspiration is (as the proverbial “they” have declared) the mother of invention, Mickey and Clinton Coker may just be two of the most glistening guys in the Duke City. Since 2004, the Cokers have “reinvented” their restaurant four times. If you’re thinking, they’re just try, try, trying again until they get it right, you couldn’t be more wrong. Mickey Coker, the entrepreneur behind the four make-overs, started with a culinary concept that was so wildly successful, it prompted almost immediate growth. His second effort, a brick-and-mortar operation, also achieved significant acclaim. Some might have considered the third Coker transition strictly a sideline…until it started garnering one award after the other. The fourth step in the evolution of the Sandia Grill may be the most revolutionary of all.
For Mickey Coker, the route to entrepreneur was inauspicious. He got his start selling New Mexican food at a gas station-convenience store. Yes, the very notion of a gas station-convenience store food conjures images of salty, cylindrically shaped dry meat snacks with the texture of sawdust and air-filled bags of Cool Ranch Doritos. Now mention New Mexican food and gas station in the same sentence and the likely image would make all the sophomoric six-year-olds among us giggle, the notion of “gas” not having anything to do with petroleum. Despite these stereotypes, Coker had the confidence in his New Mexico food products to launch his business in 2004, ensconced within the confines of a convenience store-gas station in the Winner’s Circle gas station at Harper and Barstow. A second location, on Montgomery just east of I-25, followed shortly thereafter.
From its onset, the Sandia Chile Grill’s made-to-order burrito concept elevated gas station dining from a fast food grab-and-gobble experience to a uniquely sublime New Mexico dining extravaganza, albeit one without on-the-premises seating. The aroma of tortillas on the grill quickly had patrons making a bee-line to the little grill that could at the back of the convenience store portion of the gas station. While relatively little space is required to operate what is essentially a to-go diner, Coker saw his business grow to the extent–as many as 4,000 meals in a busy month–that a real restaurant storefront was in order. He launched the Sandia Chile Grill restaurant at the Del Norte Shopping Center, essentially moving from the Winner’s Circle gas station not that far away.
A native New Mexican (born in Belen), Coker saw two obvious reasons for the name Sandia Chile Grill, the first being Sandia chile which grows in the Mesilla Valley. Sandia chile ranges from four to six-inches long and dries to a deep burgundy color. It’s one of the most delicious of all red chiles and is served at such fabled New Mexican food treasures as Mary & Tito’s. Sandia is also the name of the mountain range backdropping the city of Albuquerque.
At the restaurant, the staff had the room to operate and customers had comfortable seating in which to enjoy New Mexican food favorites. Though much of the restaurant’s business remained carry-out, it was nice to have had an alternative when you wanted it. As at the service station, burritos dominated the menu: breakfast burritos, steak burritos, steak and chicken burritos, chicken burritos, pork burritos and even veggie burritos. Some burritos were named for professional wrestlers (Ultimate Warrior, Undertaker, Junkyard Dog, Mankind and the Macho Man). There were also burritos named for Mexican western characters: El Matidor (sic), Bandito, Caballero and El Jeffe. The menu also included stuffed sopaipillas, enchiladas, tamales, rellenos and tacos–the New Mexican food essentials which couldn’t be prepared at the gas station sites.
In 2009, the facility was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to can all its chiles and sauces for nationwide distribution. In 2012, the Cokers opened a microbrewery on the premises–and an award-winning brewery at that. Within months after launching, they entered seven items in a New Mexico State Fair competition, earning five medals including a “best of show” in the professional division. The blue and red-ribbons are on display in the restaurant. The menu also began featuring several gluten-free items (nachos, green chile chicken stew, chicken quesadillas, chicken enchiladas, steak tacos and more).
The Cokers determined that an even more natural accompaniment to award-winning adult libations than New Mexican food is barbecue. Yes, barbecue! Though their New Mexican dishes were beloved by the masses who frequented the Sandia Chile Grill, the Cokers are not ones to stay still. They transitioned to a smokehouse concept in March, 2014, positioning a smoker near the Wyoming entrance to the shopping center. Aficionados of Sandia’s New Mexican food weren’t left in the cold, however. The new menu also includes several popular New Mexican food favorites (burritos, enchiladas, stuffed sopaipillas, quesadillas, huevos rancheros and a green chile chicken bowl ) prepared with smoked meats instead of the more conventional meats used on New Mexican food.
Because the concept of transitioning from a New Mexican restaurant to a smokehouse may seem radical, you’re probably wondering if this is a haphazardly undertaken venture. In truth, the Cokers have had a smoker for more than a decade. That’s plenty of time to master low-and-slow smoke manipulation on meats. Brimming with confidence from the great reception their barbecue has received, the Cokers have plans for a larger smoker with a much greater capacity. The barbecue menu is replete with the essentials: pulled pork, smoked chicken, brisket, St. Louis ribs and street tacos. You can purchase them in increments ranging from a quarter-pound through ten pounds. You can also partake of a sandwich meal with two sides for a ridiculously low price. Three sauces–a tangy sauce similar to what you’d find in the Carolinas, a spicy sauce redolent with Habanero and a sweet sauce–are available though because it’s good barbecue, they’re wholly unnecessary.
29 June 2015: The pulled pork sandwich features a hoagie type bun brimming with tender tendrils of pulled pork. It’s good to go as is though you might want to experiment with the three sauces to see if one suits your taste. The spicy Habanero-based sauce provides a “slow burn,” a deceptive “sneak up on you” burn that may water your eyes if you apply too much of the sauce. If you’re from New Mexico, you can handle it. Make one of the two sides the calabasitas. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill calabasitas. They’re prepared al dente and paired with a green chile as incendiary as the Habanero sauce. Another excellent side is the twice-baked potatoes which have a smooth, creamy texture and are punctuated with sour cream.
3 July 2015: The pairing of New Mexican food and barbecue is a match made in New Mexico and that’s about as close to heaven as there is on Earth. One of the most surprisingly natural couplings is smoked brisket with “Christmas” style enchiladas, available in quantities of one, two or three. Atop tortillas redolent with corn are heaping helpings of smoked brisket, shredded Cheddar, lettuce and the red and green chile with which Duke City diners fell in love when the Ultimate Warrior was on the menu. The chile has a pleasant piquancy that doesn’t obfuscate the smokiness of the brisket. Brisket enchiladas are a surprisingly good way to enjoy the best of two flavor combinations.
16 August 2015: In the Duke City area, barbecue restaurants tend to favor baby back ribs over St. Louis ribs even though the St. Louis ribs are more substantial and meaty. So, what’s the difference? St. Louis ribs are actually spareribs that have been trimmed down, removing what is commonly known as the rib tips. St. Louis ribs come from the belly section of the pig, near where the sacrosanct bacon can be found. As their name suggests baby back ribs come from the back side of the pig, near where the loin is. The St. Louis ribs at the Sandia Chile Grill aren’t quite as thick, meaty and substantial as other ribs of the kind we’ve had, but the meat they do have includes the caramelized “bark” barbecue aficionados love. This is meaty magnificence at its best.
Mick Coker and his son Clinton are immensely proud of their New Mexican heritage and like most proud New Mexicans, know one of the day’s most difficult decisions is whether to have red or green chile…or both. They help make that decision easier for their guests by offering excellent New Mexican cuisine showcasing both. They also showcase some of the best adult libations and barbecue in town.
Sandia Chile Grill
7120 Wyoming Blvd, N.E.,
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 16 August 2015
1st VISIT: 18 August 2007
# OF VISITS: 4
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Pulled Pork Sandwich, Calabasitas, Twice Baked Potatoes, Brisket Enchiladas, St. Louis Ribs, Macaroni and Cheese
10 thoughts on “Sandia Chile Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)”
Apparently Sandia Chile Grill is quite closed. Disappointing as we were set to head out.
Thank you, Jim. Sandia Chile Grill is listed on Yelp as being closed, but no such indication is noted on the restaurant’s Facebook page. Its answering service indicates “the number you dialed has been changed, disconnected or is no longer in service…” We can’t even blame this closure on ART.
Aha! Apparently the Child Bride has not seduced you into doing a Re-Lo into some exotic venue in the Far East after all. Hopefully, you and she will once again feature her/your reviews on the ever changing ABQ Yum-Yum scene once again!
MMMM, I had forgot about Robb’s habanero sauce! It was very delicious and brought the heat!
Thanks for making my mouth water…
A new place for Barbecue at an old location that normally serves Mexican/New Mexican food. Ate there twice previously from that menu and was not impressed. My brother saw the smoker in the parking lot and picked up some brisket for lunch that we put on our own Kaiser rolls. Good flavor but It was dry, he said they heated it on the flat top and my guess is that it was brisket from the day before. Would have helped if they’d wet it with au jus, stock or water then cover with a lid as it heated. We got the spicy sauce (Habanero) it had good flavor and heat but a little runny for our taste.
I miss Rob Richmond’s award winning Habanero Barbecue Sauce he used to bottle and sold at Robb’s Ribbs and various local stores.
My sister invited had us all over for lunch and served Sandia’s brisket, chicken, pulled port and salmon. She made her own sides and rolls. The brisket was better, moist/fresh and pulled pork was ok the chicken was decent and the salmon was really good. Again we had the Habanero sauce and we all agreed it was good but missed Robbs. My brother had been back and tried the sides with a sit down meal and was not impressed by them.
My family are brisket cooking experts (I have a good smoker)and we all cook brisket so we don’t buy much out but its nice when you have an urge for some that you can pick it up in minutes. The Habanero sauce is a good addition and worth the trip.
Hey- my sauce will soon be available again in ABQ- go to robbsribbs..com for more info. Robb “Ribb’. If it ain’t got 2 Bs…..
Wow, I was there and witnessed this in person. This man paid for tea and went straight to the soda fountain. He was across the room when the cashier informed him that the soda fountain was extra. He threw his debit card agressively and disrespectfully at the cashier from about five feet and then turned his back. The cashier threw his card back to him the same way it was delievered. This man was a jerk and deserved to be throw out of the place by his collar. I don’t blame this man’s father for being embarassed, if my son behaved this way I would want to crawl under a rock. If this man wants respect, he should learn to respect others and he will receive it in return.
BTW, the food in this place is the best.
My family and I have been eating at this restaurant on a regular basis since we discovered it awhile back. Never had a problem that I can remember. The prices are fair, the food is delicious and there are a ton of choices.
Before you consider any bad review of this restaurant I seriously think you should try it first.
We try our best to give quality service to everyone that eats at our place no matter how much or little they spend. We are native New Mexicans and run a family operation with a single location in the NE Heights. Our Iced Tea is $.99 cents for 32oz cup all you can drink. Our 32 oz cup of soda is $1.79 all you can drink. We made sure he knew that at the time of purchase the differences in price. All we ask our customers to do is pay and get what they really ordered. From time to time people order complimentary water and fill it up with soda. The soda machine was around the corner where I could see it during his visit. Since this incident I have put the soda machine next to the register where I can see it to avoid this confrontation in the future with people like this man. This man was the classical case of that mentality, try to pay for less than you receive. This man not his father filled up the cups with soda not Iced tea (why didn’t he purchase his father and son what they wanted if he was proud of taking them out to breakfast? Next time he goes to McDonalds ask to get the chile on only one half of the burger and see what they tell you!). His intent from the time of his order was to pay for the cheapest item and get what he wanted anyway. Our drink counter is serve yourself. When I confronted him, he threw a tantrum and then threw his credit card at me from 6′ to 8′ away striking another man (customer) that was standing in line ordering his food. This man was big, he and his wife were very upset over the incident. I asked the customer he hit with the card to please leave him alone and gave the man a drink for his patients with this idiot. The customer told me he was lucky he didn’t hit his wife with the card! I threw his credit card back at him and ask him never to return. All of the customers in our restaurant asked me to have him leave immediately. I disagreed and I let him sit down to eat his meal where he threw everything on the ground making as big a mess as he could before he left. I serve very few people that act like this man especially in front of their children. Unfortunately he embarressed himself in front of a crowd, he did not need me to help him with that. If I would have said something when I dropped off the food it would have been GET OUT!!!, like all of the customers asked me to tell him.
By the way he must have liked the food. He didn’t have anything bad to say about that part. That must be due to our fresh in house hand prepared ingredients. We prefer to serve honesty hard working people like us.
Sir, Since when did stealing get associated with respect? Do the right thing by other people not just yourself and you may find people will treat you different and with some respect.
By the way Gil’s format is just fine. Why are you knocking the guy your complaing to?
Thanks for your support Gil,
Sandia Chile Grill
P.S. We were highlighted in the Albuquerque Journal Venue section pg. 12 on Mar. 19, 2010. They liked the service as well as the food and gave us a 3 star rating.
Gil, thanks for hosting such a great site. I have mixed feelings about the new format though. It’s more difficult to navigate but I also find my self reading about new places I wouldn’t have otherwise.
Today I checked in to comment on my experience at Sandia Chili grill on Wyoming. There’s not too many choices for a fast bite to eat on the northern part of Wyoming, so I was excited to read about the oversized burritos in your review. Unfortunately my experience wasn’t so positive.
My father, two year old son and I stopped in for some breakfast on a Tuesday morning. Instead of buying something separate for my son I asked if they could leave a small portion of my burrito on the side with out chili. The answer was “no but we’ll make your burrito with the chili on the side”. I didn’t see the big deal but thought I could work with that and didn’t see the need to argue.
While I ordered a couple iced teas and paid my father went and washed his and my son’s hands. Because he was in the restroom he didn’t know I had paid for iced tea and started filling his drink from the soda fountain. The same man behind the counter who sighed at my previous request in a raised voice told him in front of a room full of customers that we paid for iced tea and that soda was extra. My father was very embarrassed. Annoyed I dropped my card back on the counter and told him to charge me for the difference only to have him flick my card across the room. Literally across the room! In complete shock and embarrassment we sat down in the corner and waited for the same guy to drop our breakfast with out a word.
Maybe I caught somebody on a bad day or maybe he thinks he can treat people that way but at $15 for two burritos and two drinks you’d think they could at least treat you with respect.