Trombino’s Bistro Italiano – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Trombino’s Bistro Italiano on Academy

In describing George Lindsay’s character Goober on his self-titled show, Andy Griffith said Goober was the type of person who would sit down at a table and say, “Hey, this is great salt.”  Had he dined at Trombino’s Bistro Italiano, I believe Goober might have limited his compliments to the salt (okay, maybe he would have added the bread).

Our three experiences at this venerable Northeast Heights Italian bistro have us shaking our head in wonder at how this very popular dining destination continues to thrive–and more amazingly how its loyal patrons invariably send me e-mail questioning my parentage after I write something disparaging about Trombino’s.  We feel like Bob Newhart as the only sane diners in an assemblage of taste bud deprived patrons who continue to pack what we believe to be a restaurant the quality of its cuisine which is a step down from the corporate chains that are often the target of my derision.

We can understand one bad meal–an unappetizing appetizer here, an occasional overdone entree there–but to go three visits and have our taste buds either lulled to sleep or tortured into submission is too much.  Ironically, it was the axiom “Mangia bene, Viva Bene” (“he who eats well, lives well”) on the menu that first caught my eye and heightened my expectations that we might indeed have a good meal at the restaurant formerly known as “Trattoria Trombino.”

So, am I the only Albuquerque diner who’s ever experienced a bad meal at this extremely popular restaurant…the only diner who isn’t bought in?  Trombino’s “Best of City” awards in just 2005 include Best Italian Restaurant from the Alibi Reader’s Choice Restaurant Poll, Albuquerque The Magazine’s Best of the City and Citysearch…but I’m not crazy.  Everybody else is.

The parade of mediocrity started during our introductory meal at Trombino’s in 2000 when we were left aghast by fried shrimp reminiscent of the heavily breaded “all you can eat” shrimp served at restaurants such as Sizzler and an uninspiring marinara sauce not even as good as the one served at the Olive Garden.  Remarkably the service was slow and lines were out the door (this being Albuquerque, the Olive Garden must have been packed) with ravenous customers salivating at the prospects of their meal.

During our second visit, we were determined to try something more unconventional in the hopes that it would give us a truer (or at least a reasonably favorable) impression of this highly regarded and yawning dining establishment.  It started off well with an appetizer of Mussels Zafferano, Atlantic blue gold mussels steamed in a spicy saffron white wine sauce.  This was among the very best saffron sauces we’ve had in the Duke City, but several of the mussels were either gritty, too chewy or we couldn’t extricate them from their shells.

An entree of Chicken Involuntini featured three lightly breaded chicken breasts stuffed with proscuitto ham, fontina cheese and sage served over spinach with a side of garlic butter pasta.  The proscuitto, in particular, was de-fanged with no discernable taste, a commonality it had with the entire entree.  Similarly mundane was an entree of grilled homemade Italian sausage (mild and spicy) served with seasoned red potatoes. We couldn’t envision any self-respecting Italian restaurant in Chicago or Boston serving such lifeless sausage.

Not even dessert could save the day.  Not surprisingly considering our luck at Trombino’s, the chocolate delight (delizia al cioccolate), a French baked brownie topped with vanilla ice cream, Torani chocolate sauce and whipped cream didn’t leave much of a lasting impression either.

A “third strike and you’re out” visit in 2006 resulted in the uneven performance we had come to expect from Trombino’s.  An appetizer of stuffed clams was baked to a crusty, crumbly and desiccated brown.  An order of lobster ravioli was so mind-numbingly boring in comparison to the Indigo Crow’s version of this entree that we wondered how Trombino’s could possibly have gone so wrong. Next time we want to “mangia bene” at an Italian restaurant, we’ll go elsewhere.

Trombino’s Bistro Italiano
5415 Academy, N.E.
Albuquerque, NM
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 30 June 2006
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Lemonade

35 thoughts on “Trombino’s Bistro Italiano – Albuquerque, New Mexico

  1. I concur with the above review. I had not eaten at this restaurant in a number of years but decided to try it again this weekend, since I now live in the neighborhood. My recent experience reminded me of why I had not eaten there in a very long time. I ordered lasagna and found it to have an excessively garlicky taste. It was lacking in sauce but what sauce it had was very bland. It also had very little meat. I am of Italian descent and grew up with real Italian food. This was not real Italian food by any stretch of the imagination. I have even eaten at some chain restaurants that had better lasagna than this. When I moved to Albuquerque 30 years ago, a co-worker from New York who was also of Italian descent told me she not care for this restaurant and warned me about it. I agree it is an anomaly. The restaurant has a nice atmosphere, very good service, and generous portions. The only explanation is that many people are just not able to recognize real Italian food. This explains the popularity of Italian chain restaurants as well.

  2. Well…ditto on my ’16 blathering. Nice to have consistency to experience. I must say RE the taste of the sauce…it was fine as well as that for the veal. While I can’t say one way or another if it is real veal given the texture was more dense than what I’d remember having to caution the waitstaff as a kid to make sure it wasn’t gristly…maybe they “scallopini” it differently nowadays?…. but it was good and especially the seasonings of the breading…Molto Saporito! as they say.
    Ooops, I do have a caution: before the Waitstaff pours the EVOO on the serving plate with its dry seasoning, offer the empty bread plate instead. Once you start sopping the EVOO seasoning up, and unless you are a monk or cloistered nun who has great strength of self denial, you will find yourself ordering continuous baskets.
    A Caveat: t’was only 5:15ish on a THURSDAY eve and the cozy lounge was 85% full. By 6, the dining room itself, which is tastefully divided to break up being an overly capacious expanse was 80-85% seated with a plentifully bustling staff.
    If Sly was there, I’m sure he’d leave with his familiar exclaim: Pastafagiol! or as MacArthur would say “Chow!” (Groan).
    PS: Certainly miss Miss Suzie Queue

  3. If ya love that great old ’50s/’60s’70s comfy feeling/nostalgia per that kind of ambiance of a setting where attentive waitstaff are also bustling around a room pretty full of people including on a Sunday night, Benvenuto! to where ya can still get… close your eyes!..Veal Parmigiano(a)! Aha, I see I did not comment per eons ago that I thought the cheese/marina sauce was a “tad” much/thick.
    Today, perhaps ya drive by enough times and cuz it is still there, ya gotta do it one more time….LOL Last eve the sauce was nicely less on a humongous entree accompanied by a separate boat of pasta. Alas, I’m flummoxed why I was disappointed. Sorry…I guess it IS all in the sauce despite a nice glass of wine and waitperson. Conclusion? Gotta get up to Joe’s.

    1. While I resist the urge to read, let alone comment on BOTVOLR’s Ramblings I am very confused by the statement that the marinara sauce was better than his last visit but he’s flummoxed that he was disappointed. I’m flummoxed by the statement.
      Marinara sauce is always as different from chef to chef.
      Like risotto it depends on the area of Italy the recipe originates, some areas like loose, almost watery risotto while other prefer a thicker version, it’s really that simple.
      A good friend who is an experienced cook of all things Italian makes a very thick, stick to everything marinara that may not be everyone’s fave but is superior in every way that is important to folks that know and understand the different styles of real Italian food. Not flummoxing at all but perhaps less desirable to those less attuned to real Italian, and certainly not the Dions version shipped in 55 gallon drums to all 3500 locations.
      Having dined at Torino’s from the early days thru this September they had, and still have a very good version, albeit their own. As does JPH. Each is authentic, each is house made from top ingredients and each deserves non-flummoxed acclaim.

      1. Correction, Trombino’s, not Torino’s.
        And for the record Trombino’s has improved since our first visit during which I thought some NM chile was added to the marinara, to my dismay. Marinara is not arrabiatta.

          1. Why do you insist on using an apostrophe instead of an accent? If this means so much to you, one would think you would’ve figured out how to use the character map on a PC or how to activate special characters on your phone.

  4. I don’t know what happened to this place. It used to be good. Well, perhaps I just thought it was good when I was 10 years old and didn’t know any better, but that was about 20 years ago. The mussels appetizer was decent, although not in the same league as Albuquerque’s best mussels at P’tit Louis Bistro. However, the linguine with clam sauce was probably the most flavorless Italian entree I’ve ever had. Really, really bland and very bad. This place continues to be busy for the same unexplainable reason that Sadie’s is always packed, but I don’t know if I’ll give them another shot with a different menu choice.

  5. joe,
    A clarification: I have never dined at Olive Garden (not that there’s anything wrong with OG).
    When we arrived in New Mexico we used references from neighbors to find the first few places we chose for dining out.
    Some panned out , others didn’t.
    We are now experienced enough and combined with Gil’s Thrilling…Chilling have found absolutely terrific restaurants from which to chose.
    They are out there for the finding.
    And yes, after almost 4 years of degringo-ing I’m totally down with both red and green and have learned to love both.

  6. Bruce,
    All I can say is I agree 110%. I agree Il Piatti is great. If you are stooping to franco american try Bucca de beppo or macaroni grill rather than olive garbage.

  7. My wife and I have dined at Trombino’s a number of times and each time has been a new adventure.
    To me that means a lack of consistency.
    My wife and I visited Trombino’s on the recommendation of a neighbor who described it as the best Italian restaurant around.
    I have aways considered great red sauce to be fundamental to traditional Italian cooking.
    I ordered chicken parm, a basic. what I got was a red sauce that was influenced by red chile peppers!!!
    While reading the many and varied responses to Trombino’s something struck me.
    The folks who have reservations (no pun intended) about Trombino’s have probably experienced good or even great Italian food elsewhere.
    Those who like Trombino’s may have not.
    Just my opinion.
    Make a trip to Santa Fe, try Pranzo, try il Piatti, try Osteria de Assissi.
    I do like the Pasta House on Southern for good, basic Italian fare.
    Terrific red sauce and terrific service.
    Then come back to Trombino’s and compare.
    I’m just saying …..
    There is no comparison.
    An Italian neighbor, long time transplant from Long Island, when asked about his favorite Italian restaurant here in Albuquerque responded “Olive Garden is as good or better than the others around”.
    I’m just saying……..

  8. Now your making fun of me! Yeh – I meant Leaning Tower of Pisa – the one in Italy. And all those other places in Italy dont even exist – and Michael Angelo is spelled with one word – Michaelangelo. I just thought I would share my $2 cents. If anybody cares, Dawanda is doing much better!

  9. Suzie, did Dawanda’s Italian grandmother tell her about other sites in Italy. It’s not just the Leaning Tower of Pizza, you know. There’s the gondolas at Venice Beach, Leonardo DiCaprio’s paintings on the Cistern Chapel, Michael Angelo’s statute of David, Vertical City where the Pope lives, the cat combs, the Apean Way, Lake Gorda, the Dullomites, Sissylee and other attractions. Surely Dawanda’s grandmother told her about other authentic Italian food: Chef Boyardee Pizza, Uh Oh Spaghettios, Ravioli-os, etc.

  10. Suzie, the part I am still trying to wrap my head around is “The Leaning Tower of Pizza” … is this some ill-begotten attempt by Pizza Hut to build the tallest pizza for the Guiness Book of World Records? Or do you mean the “Leaning Tower of Pizza” restaurant in Ankeny Iowa? Or, could it be the leaning cathedral in Florence Italy that is known as the “Leaning Tower of Pisa”. And what does this all have to do with edible looking emesis? Also, I’m not too sure this is a good testament for Trombino’s… “We didnt order desert because Dawanda got an upset stomack and had to go to the bathroom and we had to leave in a hurry. She threw up but it looked so good I could have eaten one of each”… For some reason this just just doesn’t sit well.

  11. Thank you Suzie for helping with my diet! I’ve never seen puke that looked good enough to eat. As for the “pre” gergitated fare at Trombino’s, I’ve not ever had good luck with my choices in meals. Guess it’s best to stick with the bread and wine.

  12. I think Trombinos is the best Italian food ever and YOU ARE WRONG!.
    I went there with my friend Dawanda who’s great grandma was from Italy, so she is an expert on good Italian when she sees it. First was the decore. It made me want go to Rome Italy and see the Colloseum and the Leaning tower of pizza. It was crowded, so we knew we were in for a treat.
    First, we had an order of the antipasta. It was real good but there wasnt even any pasta in it. Maybe thats why they call it ANTI pasta?
    The true way to test an Italian restaurant is to order there spagetti and meantballs – and they were the best I have’ve ever eaten. The meat ball was firm so obviusly they used good meat in it. And there spagetti was not chewy and undercooked so I had no problem cutting it all up so I could eat it more easier. The sauce was heaven and not too salty. They served it with some really good bread. There bread was so good we we took some home in a napkin.
    Dawanda had the lasania and I tasted it too. We both liked it a lot and it was even better then the lasania at Olivegarden.
    We didnt order desert because Dawanda got an upset stomack and had to go to the bathroom and we had to leave in a hurry. She threw up but it looked so good I could have eaten one of each! It’s too bad too because our waiter was giving me the eye and was very cute. So the service was excellant!
    I am going to go back again and again and this time have the desert!

    1. Oh my God what’s with the spelling. Maybe we should try using an accent instead of an apostrophe. What do you think Sarita?

      1. WHOOSH! That’s the sound of the joke going over your head. If you can’t tell the difference between an accent and an apostrophe, you’re beyond any help I can give you.

  13. Trombino’s is an Albuquerque anomaly. The food is terrible and yet every time you go there it is packed. I have dined at Trombino’s on six occasions and have always been underwhelmed. Scalo is probably the only good Italian restaurant in the Albuquerque metro area. Stay away from this place unless you enjoy average food at above average prices. The wait staff has always been good and service consistently prompt.

  14. We go there often. My wife is actually Italian and she says the food is excellent and authentic. So go ahead and take your whiteboy unrefined palettes to Olive Garden while I enjoy fine Italian cuisine at Trombinos.

  15. And yet, Trombino’s is still voted “best Italian” every year in the Alibi poll. Why not Paisano’s or even Scalo?

    True that Albuquerque does not have great Italian, but we do have better than Trombino’s.

  16. I had the best Mussels Zafferano I’ve ever eaten, at Trombino’s. The lamb chops were very tasty as well if a little too coated with the mustard sauce. We had a very pleasant meal there!

  17. Much like Quarters I had never heard of anyone who didn’t love Trombino’s but from the above I can see that I am not alone. I love Italian food including that in Italy, Canada and the US East including the much derided “red sauce” places but have found only two or three in New Mexico that I really care for. As long as Tombino’s has been around though somebody must love it, just not me.

  18. Without reservation I must say I haven’t had a bad meal at Trombino’s and all of them have been well above average. The food is served as ordered and have been there so many times I can’t remember. I was very surprised by the reviews I have read here but my family loves it and to compare it with Olive Garden is ridiculous. I would recommend it to anyone, Trombinos’s that is while I would not eat at Olive Garden, ever. The wait staff has always been friendly and attentive without being hovering. We go there for special occasions and will continue.

  19. We went there several years ago hoping to find a good Italian food restaurant.

    Before we sat down the waitress asked us if we knew what we were going to have?

    And halfway through dinner the waitress reappeared and asked if we had saved room for desert?

    All of this might have been OK if the food had been exceptional. It wasn’t.

    Too bad really.

  20. Hey Gil,
    I’ve never been to Trombino’s, and that’s because I’ve heard so many stories of mediocre food and sub-bar service. “Go to Olive Garden!” people say. The funny thing is, I’ve heard just as many stories about how great it is. I don’t ever feel like chancing it, and so, I always end up at my favourite local Italian joint, Paisano’s.

  21. Thank You, Gil. U r right. My wife and I went there coz all the ravings. After the meal, we walked out swearing that never set foot back into it. There are so many better choices in town for Italian.

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