When we get together, native New Mexicans of my generation who grew up in the state’s mountainous regions sometimes reminisce about trudging a mile or more in feet-deep snow to get to school. We wonder how we survived the furious snowstorms which killed reception for weeks to all four (yeah, four) Albuquerque television stations in the dark, pre-historic days before color television (not to mention, cable), the Internet and iPhones.
Mostly, we trumpet the fact that we were weaned on chile–and not just any chile. We grew up eating the most gastronomic distress-inducing, tongue-searing, sweat-arousing chile possible–the type of chile which embodies the axiom that with some New Mexican food, pain is a flavor. Listen to us and we’ll have you believe that in comparison, the stuff served in most New Mexican restaurants today is as wimpy as ketchup and as piquant as spaghetti sauce.
Thankfully, the Internet has provided visual–albeit Photoshop image manipulated–evidence of the incendiary stuff on which we were weaned. A frequently forwarded image on many computers depicts a jar of Gerber Picante Sauce, but instead of the familiar cherubic baby with the tousled hair, pursed lips and smiling eyes, the red-faced baby on the manipulated image is in obvious and alarming distress.
The truth is, there are few remaining New Mexican restaurants which serve chile as piquant as our memories tell us it once was. In fact, most of the chile served today has just slightly more piquancy than the innocuous bell pepper which on the Scoville scale is the baseline for “no heat” (this makes it doubly funny to see tourists unable to handle our chile’s “heat”). Sometimes the red chile just sits there like some flour-thickened food coloring while the green chile would be green with envy of the heat generated by a Greek pepperoncini. Most restaurants acquire their chile from one of two distributors and seem, for the most part, to order and serve chile of the “mild” variety.
Expecting chile to be fairly tame in most restaurants, about the most we can hope for is chile with that unmistakable New Mexico sun-blessed flavor we’ve all come to love. New Mexican restaurants generally do a better job in the flavor department than in the province of piquancy. For the most part, green chile has a freshly roasted flavor while red chile can be velvety, earthy and rich. The operative terms here are “for the most part” and “can be.” With few exceptions (Mary & Tito’s and their amazing red chile come to mind), you never know what you’re going to get.
We frankly didn’t know quite what to expect from Quesada’s New Mexican Restaurant on San Mateo just north of Copper. When he told me about Quesada’s, Steve Goatley described it as “a great little New Mexican cuisine restaurant” with “great food.” He described the green chile as “being very tasty with a bit of a bite” and the carne adovada as “out of this world.” For me, the proof is in the eating.
Quesada’s is housed in a small converted home on San Mateo just north of Copper, the same edifice which was once home to the Mediterranean Cafe, a rarity in the Duke City in that it served Tunisian and Moroccan entrees. The restaurant has fewer than a dozen tables and the tables are of the two- to four-seat variety. You’ll have to put two or three tables together to accommodate a larger group. Fortunately the take-out traffic is robust because Quesada’s isn’t big enough to handle an overflow. Parking is also a bit of a challenge, but you should be fine if you figure out how to navigate behind the restaurant.
Quesada’s is a true old-fashioned mom-and-pop restaurant. It’s family-owned and operated by native New Mexicans. The chef-proprietor is from Carlsbad, not exactly known as a hotbed for hot (or good) chile. If the chile enhanced food at the restaurant is any example of the New Mexican food served in the gateway city to the world’s most accessible cave system, capsaicin craving foodies everywhere should descend upon Carlsbad like a colony of bats at a fruit-fly feast.
Before the menu is brought to your table, confusion might ensue as to whether Quesada’s is a New Mexican restaurant, a Mexican restaurant or a hybrid of the two. On a table by the wait staff station are large jars, one filled with watermelon agua fresca ( a standard at Mexican restaurants) and one with ice tea. A table tent lists such un-New Mexican specialties as hot and spicy barbecue ribs. The menu, however, is mostly New Mexican: burritos, quesadillas (not a diminutive of Quesada), burgers, enchiladas, tacos, stuffed sopaipillas, combination platters, tamales, chile rellenos, flautas and more. Everything–the salsa, aguas frescas, chile and more–is made from scratch from family recipes.
The salsa provided a precursor that we might be in for something special, something perfectly piquant and daringly delicious. Quesada’s salsa has the type of incendiary bite that impresses itself on your taste buds, titillating them with piquancy, heat and flavor. If Sadie’s Dining Room is the standard by which the Duke City’s hottest salsas are measured, Quesada’s may just set a new benchmark. It’s not only piquant; it’s very flavorful, a red-orange jalapeno and tomato based sauce of medium thickness and maximum flavor.
As Steve Goatley told me, the carne adovada is indeed “out of this world.” It’s the type of carne adovada my friend and frequent dining companion Ruben, an adovada adoring, carne connoisseur loves most (to find out how much, check out the amusing anecdote he relates in the feedback section below). Unlike the salsa, the carne adovada doesn’t bite back. The emphasis isn’t on piquancy, but on succulently tender pork marinated in a well-seasoned red chile. For breakfast, it is served with two eggs and cubed, golden brown papitas. If there’s one thing wrong with this carne adovada, it’s that there isn’t more of it. A double-sized portion might not be enough to sate you; it’s good enough to make you weak at the knees.
Insofar as the chile, a worthy canvass for New Mexico’s favorite fruit and official state vegetable is Quesada’s enchilada plate–two or three white corn tortillas served rolled (flat upon request), topped with red or green chile (or Christmas style), cheese and that ubiquitous tomato and lettuce garnish so many people discard. The chile is attention grabbing. In its green chile hue, it has the tongue-tingling bite and roasted flavor of my youthful memories. It also has a hint of sweetness that all members of the nightshade family seem to have, albeit not always discernible. The red chile is not quite as piquant, but it’s even more flavorful–sweet and complex with a hint of earthiness. Unlike the chile at Sadie’s which is more piquant than it is flavorful, the chile at Quesada’s is delicious first then piquant. Ask for your enchilada plate to be topped by an egg for an additional flavor ameliorant, not that the chile needs any help.
Enchiladas are available in seemingly every variety but tofu. There are cheese, ground beef, chicken, carne adovada and roast beef enchiladas available which you can mix and match in quantities of two or three. The enchilada plate is served with the de rigueur beans and rice. The beans are mashed and good. The rice has a bit of a bite which places it in unique company considering most Spanish rice in New Mexican restaurants is bland and uninspired.
Quesada’s is one of only a few New Mexican restaurants offering buñuelos, a Mexican dessert made from fried dough. In taste and texture, buñuelos resemble sopaipillas, but are flattened like Navajo tacos (which are also on the menu). They are sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and are a good way to mollify any heat remaining on your taste buds and tongue. Also quite good is the watermelon agua fresca, as refreshing and delicious a fresh water as we’ve had in New Mexico without the cloying quality of aguas frescas made by vendors.
Some readers of this blog have figured out that one way to gauge how much I like a restaurant is how soon after my first visit I make my first return visit. After my first visit, I started craving Quesada’s carne adovada literally as we were driving away. Alas, a scheduled lunch with my friend Ruben four days later was not to be due to my inattention (a woeful tale of my ineptitude is wonderfully related by Ruben in the feedback section below). It wasn’t a total loss as Ruben loved the adovada…and made sure to tell me how much.
My second visit to Quesada’s finally occurred five days after my inaugural visit when I introduced two other friends, Mike Muller and Bill Resnik to the chile that had so captivated me. Carne adovada quesadillas were my choice. A flour tortilla grilled crisp and folded over with melted cheese and generously engorged with carne adovada, it was melt-in-your-mouth good, one of the best quesadillas I’ve had in the Duke City. The carne is the color of a magnificent sunset, the result of being marinated for hours in chile so good I could drink a vat of it. The chile used on the carne adovada isn’t nearly as piquant as the chile served on other entrees. In fact, it’s not a piquant chile, but it is so utterly delicious that you’ll fall in love with it.
The red chile at Quesada’s is so good, in fact, that the best way to have what would otherwise be a green chile cheeseburger is Christmas style–with both red and green chile. The beef patty exceeds the circumference of the bun, spilling over by at least a half-inch. Lettuce and tomato are the sole toppings but squeeze bottles of mustard and ketchup are also brought to your table so you can apply as much as you’d like. The red chile is easily the star, so good that the best way to have this burger is smothered with the stuff. Come to think of it, the French fries would be better smothered in the red chile, too.
Most of the highest heralded green chile cheeseburgers in New Mexico don’t seem to be prepared in New Mexican food restaurants. That’s not to say those restaurants who excel in enchiladas and boast of the best burritos can’t make a great green chile cheeseburger; it’s just that they’re not as renown for the most popular burger in the Land of Enchantment as they are for other entrees. Quesada’s burger is good, but honestly, its other New Mexican food entrees are so much better that I’ll leave green chile cheeseburgers to purveyors who have perfected them. Similarly I won’t order red chile at the restaurants who specialize in the green chile cheeseburger. Red chile is what Quesada’s is for.
Not only does Quesada’s trigger memories of the chile of my youth, it elicited the promise of new memories at what promises to be one of my favorite New Mexican restaurants.
Quesada’s New Mexican Restaurant
513 San Mateo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 14 August 2009
1st VISIT: 26 June 2009
# OF VISITS: 3
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Carne Adovada, Enchiladas, Aguas Frescas
18 thoughts on “Quesada’s New Mexican Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)”
I have an ols family recipe forwhat is called chilli quesada thought to be quezo
onions garlic jalopeno peppersauted in a bit of bacon grease tomatoes added cooked down 30 minutes andbeatenegg added gradually do you knowanother name for this
Not sure what happened there. I thought it was pretty good, too, when I visited this summer. Lots of negative reviews occurred in the final month before their closure. The financial turmoil may explain why the quality deteriorated as quickly as it did in September.
BTW, on a slightly related note, I went by Sabrosos tonight – my wife was craving a fried avodcado. They have also closed. I had to go to Gardunos as a backup plan.
Confirming that they are closed as of October 2. Too bad.
They seem to be out of business. My friend and I have been trying to visit the place for the past 3 or 4 weeks. It initially looked like they were remodeling, but now their phone number has been disconnected.
After reading your review and a very positive review in the Alibi last week I decided to check it out. I went twice during regular business hours and they were closed.
I have to agree with Deb on this one. After all the hype on this site, I went in to try a Carne Adovada Enchilada at lunchtime, and was very unimpressed. The meat was served in small cubes and was unpleasantly fatty, without a good flavor. The red sauce covering the enchiladas was flavored primarily with way too much salt for my taste, and the dayglo orange “cheese” on top appeared and tasted like an artificial cheese food product.
your food looks awesome and i bet it tasts awesome to
After reading Gil’s review, we decided we needed to break from our standard go to breakfast place when back in town [Garcia’s on Mountain and 4th].
We went last Saturday morning, getting there around 9 am. It wasn’t too busy. 2 tables occupied, one served, the other ordered and waiting for food.
We ordered breakfast burritos with bacon; 2 of us had green & smothered, the other had red & smothered.
The wait for the food was ridiculously long. It must have taken at least 20 minutes to get our order. The green was tasty but HOT, the red tasty and not so hot.
The bacon in all 3 burritos was extremely undercooked. The fat was translucent, there was no crisp to it at all. It made it almost inedible.
Between the long wait to get our food and the bacon, we won’t be back any time soon.
Sorry, this one is a thumbs down.
After reading the review and comments here, I was looking forward to my first visit to Quesada’s this afternoon. I was very disappointed. It seems like this country is stuck in a rut of mediocrity, and what is really just average passes for outstanding. Don’t get me wrong. Quesada’s wasn’t terrible. It just didn’t live up to the hype. Put it in the same category as Golden Crown Panaderia, another overrated establishment. Call me a heretic if you want.
As a vegetarian, I usually have limited options in the first place. I decided to go with the vegetarian fajitas, which I had never seen before on a menu in the city. They arrived sizzling, which was good, but they seemed saturated in oil. There was also a fried egg white mixed in with the fajitas. The beans and rice didn’t look appetizing, and they tasted as bland as they looked. The tortillas were actually very good. They were served warm and had that fresh-off-the-comal crispiness I like. However, I don’t know that they were made in house.
My partner, who is not vegetarian, succumbed to the temptation of the carne adovada breakfast plate. After specifically ordering the eggs without runny yolks, the plate was delivered to the table with runny yolks. The picture of the carne adovada plate above accurately shows the quantity of the food. The portion of carne adovada was small compared to the potatoes and eggs. I think I blinked, and he was finished with his meal. That’s not meant to be a commentary on how fast he ate. He said he liked it, though.
I want to reiterate that I don’t think Quesada’s is necessarily bad. I thought the prices would have been better based on a couple of comments above. After eating there, tasting the quality, and seeing the quantity, they should have been lower. A complimentary serving of chips and salsa would have sweetened the deal. One meal at Quesada’s was enough for me, though. It didn’t live up to the hype.
I like Gil’s blog to get an idea of new restaurants to try. I usually take reviews and recommendations with a grain of salt being that each person brings his own likes, dislikes, and experiences to the table when forming his opinion. My experience today makes me think I need a pinch of salt instead of a grain when reading reviews. Don’t forget to add a pinch when reading my comment. The pictures Gil adds are always definitely appreciated. By the way, I think this particular review should win an award for the most use of the words piquant and piquancy.
Man I love this place! It seems that these types of restraunts with true local flavor are harder to find year by year. Adovada is over the top good. You gotta try the Carne Asada as well!!! I think the fact that they use asadero cheese helps set many of the dishes apart (aside from the unmistakeable quality of their chile).
While I certainly want to see this lil place thrive, I hope popularity never imposes the sacrifice of quality that it so often does with establishments. I can’t wait for the burn to settle so I can make another round at this great example of true NM cuisine.
I am obsessed with their breakfast burrito, it’s the best I’ve had… tons of that incredibly flavorful chile in the most delicious tortilla, the kind that’s fresh soft and translucent. My only gripe about the place is the hours!! I’m jonesing for a bb today but alas it’s a Sunday and nobody answers the phone. Tried to go for dinner the other night (to try this adovado) but got there and oops, oh yeah they’re only open til 2 pm. Quesada’s, please give us more time with you!
I gave you Quesadas, and now would like to direct you to yet another great place! Mick’s Chile Fix @ 2930 Candelaria N.E. This is “blue collar” NM cuisine. I eat there about once a week for both breakfast and lunch. Really good food, quantities, and service. These are great people
(it’s a family affair) who work very hard at customer service. They won the 94 Rock “Greasy Spoon” award a couple of years ago. Please, give it a try. You won’t be disappointed!
Indeed, the red and green was HOT! I loved it. Took a 150 mg Zantac before I ate. Good burn sensation. Satisfying.
Salsa was very good but I was disappointed in the Chile rellenos. They were actually very good but not crispy at all. Kind of like a dead fish. I like them crispy like Mary and Titos.
Luckily, I live about 1/2 mile away. martin
Wonderful review of Quesada’s! I found this restaurant after a co-worker raved about how amazing the restaurant is. I was a bit hesitant on my first visit, as I am of most first-time vists to restaruants, but was greatly surprised and pleased. I agree with Lilian that the chile rellenos are AMAZING! Also, if the green or red chili isn’t hot enough for you, request for a side of diced jalapenos… the waitress promptly serves a small cup of freshly diced jalapenos that go great with any of their dishes.
Keep up the great work!
Iv been to Quesada’s 3 times and love it!!! Your right the carne adovada is AMAZING but have you tried the chile rellenos? You can definitely tell they are homemade and huge. As far as parking goes i figured out that there is tons of space in the back you just have to drive around the tattoo shop.
What a fine find, indeed!!!! The carne adovada was incredible. Not sure where they get their red chiles or how they prepare them, but they do it right. But before I jump into a mini-review of the restaurant, I’d like to describe another, somewhat comical, possibly embarassing situation that occurred to me when I went there to meet Gil for lunch today. I say possibly embarrassing because Gil may be embarrassed by what I’m about to relate.
Okay so here goes. According to Gil, he knows a place is good when he immediately schedules his next visit to the establishment. I decided to strike while the (stove) iron was hot by quickly scheduling a lunch at Quesada’s with Gil. We compared schedules and quickly agreed to have lunch on Wednesday (today) around 11:30. I was able to locate Quezadas over on the western side of San Mateo. It’s housed in the brown stucco building pictured in the article above. Parking space is very limited, so I was quite relieved when I found an opening. I pulled into the opening and immediately noticed a “Closed” sign on the front door of the establishment. Just as i started to feel sorry for myself over my misfortune, I noticed that the “Closed” sign pertained to a Tattoo Parlor which is housed in the same small building as Quezadas. Happy days were here again. Lunch was on after all.
So I sat down at the table by the window so I could look out into the parking area – I’m not the choosiest guys when it comes to picking tables. At 11:38 (Sergeant Joe Friday would be proud of me), I saw Gil drive up to Quezada’s, but inexplicably he then proceeded to keep drivng out of the parking lot and back onto San Mateo. I figured Gil was having trouble finding a parking spot and that he was going to drive around the block to take a second pass at finding a parking spot. After waiting 20 minutes, I realized that I must be suffering from delusions. Maybe the Albuquerque summer heat was getting to me. Maybe I had only seen a person who looked like Gil and who by a strange coincidence happened to drive a car that looked like Gil’s. (By the way, it’s important that you understand that Gil does not regularly carry a cell phone and he was not carrying one today.)
An hour later I got an email message from Gil that explained everything. Gil had driven up to Quezadas, but the “Closed” sign deterred him from getting out of his car. To add to the bizarre circumstances, I was driving my son’s car today, so Gil did not see my car parked in front of Quezadas. Had I been driving my car today, Gil would have immediately recognized it and pulled in for a look.
Anyway, that’s the strange lunch story at Quezadas today. But as strange as it was, I’m really glad that I got a chance to have lunch there today, even if I had to eat alone. I had the carne adovada breakfast plate. The red chile was incredibly tasty. It was a bit mild in piquancy, but that made no difference. It was still a delight to eat. Gil and his friend were right. This red chile ranks right up there with Mary & Tito’s and Duran’s Pharmacy. I tried to buy some red chile to take home, but to my disappointment, the waitress informed me that they had just run out of the “to go” containers.
I complimented the waitress on the quality of their red chile and she quickly volunteered to get me a sample of their green. Their green is also very good, but the piquancy level is off the charts. My tongue felt like it was on fire. And I also tried their salsa which has a more complex flavor than the typical table salsa you get at most restaurants around town. It’s also very good.
According to the waitress, the daughter of the proprietor, the restaurant has been open for 7 months. If they keep serving this quality of food, in another 7 months Quezada’s will need to expand their parking area. Better yet, maybe they can expand their restaurant into the existing tattoo parlor next door. Doing so would certainly eliminate the confusion about their store hours. (insert smiley icon here).
What a find! Went yesterday for lunch and found everything to be as you described it. The carne adovada was really superb and the portions in both the Navajo Taco and quesadilla were very large. The only nit to pick is that their chips were a tad heavy – thinner, crisper chips would have made that wonderful salsa experience perfect. With reasonable (low!) prices and great service, this place requires additional visits to sample some other treats on their large menu. We were too full to try the buñuelos – next time we’ll pace ourselves better.
Gil, you have piqued my piquant curiosity. Don’t leave me hanging like this. Time for another carne carnival for this carnivore. Okay, enough of the silly alliteration – it’s time to get serious. I’m going to visit Quesadas this week. Hopefully you can join me.