With more than 260 locations worldwide, Tony Roma’s can be found from Aruba to Venezuela and 25 countries in between. As of August 30th, 2005, one of the most famous barbecue chains in the world can also be found in Albuquerque where truly great barbecue is more scarce than precious, life-giving water. Alas, while the addition of Tony Roma’s may give the Duke City one more barbecue restaurant, it still does not have a great barbecue restaurant.
Tony Roma’s claim to fame is its baby back ribs for which it helped make America go hog wild. This self-proclaimed “Famous for ribs” restaurant launched in 1972 in North Miami, Florida. We first experienced it in London, England in 1984 and last visited in Portland, Oregon in 1997. Underwhelmed might be a good summation of those visits and applies similarly to our inaugural visit to the Albuquerque franchise. We drove less than a mile from our home to Tony Roma’s and wish instead we had driven 35 miles or so further to Jake & Andre’s Rib House in Belen which offers a superior dining experience (emphasis on dining, not ambience) all the way around.
The saccharine service provided by a transparently exuberant wait staff might be the only thing matching Tony Roma’s cloying signature sauces. The Carolina Honeys and Blue Ridge Smokies sauces are sweet, sticky and messy, nearly overwhelming the ribs (which were not as tender or juicy as described on Tony Roma’s Web site). The “Red Hots” sauce offers a slightly tangy respite, but falls short of New Mexico chile enhanced ribs served in several local restaurants.
Aside from the aforementioned sauces, you can also opt for Original, Honey Chipotle and Dixie sauces. Neither the baby back ribs or the St. Louis style ribs are particularly substantive and they certainly didn’t fall off the bone as some truly outstanding ribs are apt to do. The ribs are served with a lackluster coleslaw.
Starters include grilled sesame wings described on the menu as “jumbo chicken wings grilled over an open flame then tossed in Thai chili sauce and coated with black and white sesame seeds.” The most appropriate adjectives for this appetizer are left off the description: sweet, sticky and messy (sounds like a theme here). Despite the mess it makes, the Thai chili sauce is better than the barbecue sauces.
With one exception, the side items are as boring as the ribs are disappointing. The bone dry corn fritter casserole pales in comparison to the one served at Garduno’s. The loaded mashed potatoes were similarly desiccated and uninteresting. The only saving grace seems to be the green beans which are flash-fried, garlicky and delicious.
Despite its shortcomings, Tony Roma’s will be hugely successful in Albuquerque where chain gangs will queue around the building salivating like Pavlov’s dogs at the promise of yet another Lone Star caliber nationally known restaurant.
10015 Coors, N.W.
LATEST VISIT: 22 April 2006
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Grilled Sesame Wings, Green Beans