Chef Joseph Wrede regards his Santa Fe restaurant, the eponymous Joseph’s Culinary Pub, “as a process much like theater,” regarding “the experience of dining in his restaurant as an interactive play between the pub and the public.” Maybe that’s why he seemed right at home swapping snappy patter with Food Network glitterati Guy Fieri when the spike-coiffed host came calling for a Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives episode titled “Full of Surprises.” Chef Wrede, who’s been creating surprises at New Mexico restaurants for more than two decades, prepared such delicious decadence as lamb neck confit and an organic crispy chicken tamale fried in duck fat. Fieri was effusive about the chef’s ability to combine flavors and textures, becoming especially enamored of the duck fat fried tamales.
During the month of July, a secret panel of judges made their way to fifteen contenders across the Land of Enchantment to whittle down to seven the number of finalists who would compete in the 2019 Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown. The seven finalists included a mix of first-time competitors and veterans of the fabulous fray, including 2018’s “reigning chomp,” Chef Marc Quiñones of Albuquerque’s Mas Tapas Y Vino. After a blind taste test in which judges enjoyed the septemvirate of deliciousness, Bar Castañeda in Las Vegas was declared winner of the Judges Choice Reigning Chomp award. Steel Bender Brewyard in Albuquerque won the 2019 People’s Choice award while the “secret judge’s award” (new this year) went to Pajarito Brewpub & Grill in Los Alamos. For more about the Smackdown, visit Albuquerque blogger Kitty Deschanel’s report.
KRQE’s manic meteorologist Mark Ronchetti called being a judge at the New Mexico State Fair’s annual Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge a “bucket list” item. Those of us who live vicariously through judges at such prestigious culinary competitions can only seethe with jealousy…er, wish it was us instead. Some 200 State Fair visitors did get to cast a “People’s Choice Award” ballot. Even better, they got to taste each burger and select their favorite. For the third consecutive year, Oso Grill earned the People’s Choice award. Oso Grill was equally beloved by the judges who declared them winner of the competition for the second year in a row. Albuquerque’s High Point Grill was the judge’s choice runner-up.
Coco Chanel believed “fashion changes, but style endures.” So does great cooking! Chef-owner Greg Menke proved that when he gave his restaurant Santa Fe’s The Beestro so much more than a cosmetic make-over. In 2018, he converted his popular sandwich shop into a Mecca for Middle Eastern cuisine, earning a spot on the Santa Fe Reporter’s “25 Faves.” It continues to earn accolades, most recently from the Food Network’s Guy Fieri who became verklempt at the deliciousness of a steak shawarma. Fieri raved “This is way more than a sandwich. It gave me goose bumps.”
With inflation, a picture is worth much more than a thousand words…especially if you’re a food blogger. Jonathan Gold, the only food critic to ever earn a Pulitzer Prize, believed pictures have essentially killed blogs…or at least Instagram has. He explained, “Instagram has so totally and thoroughly usurped whatever blogs used to do.” Case in point–The Food Network recently published a feature on “The Most Instagrammable Restaurants in America” which captured images of the most photogenic restaurants across the fruited plain. New Mexico’s most camera-ready restaurant was deemed to be the Love Apple in Taos. Housed in a capilla Catolica (Catholic chapel) built in the 1800s, The Love Apple’s menus celebrate the the fruits of its staff’s collective labors in foraging, gathering, kneading, chopping, simmering, baking, braising, tasting, adjusting and creating. (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)
Sunday, September 29th was National Coffee Day and if ever there was a holiday worth celebrating, it’s this one. The Food Network did its part by highlighting the “51 Best Coffee Shops in America.” Santa Fe’s Ikonic Coffee Roasters was selected as the very best in the Land of Enchantment. Here’s why: “Some third-wave coffee shops serve coffee that’s roasted so lightly that it barely registers on the palates of old-school cream-and-sugar types. But Iconik in Santa Fe bridges that gap, offering both trendy coffees like a Malawi Geisha with tomato-like acidity and honeydew-like sweetness, and traditional darker brews like a chocolatey Honduran. Another thing that makes this the go-to spot in Santa Fe for everything from first dates to business lunches? A kitchen that’s renowned for one of the city’s best patty melts.”
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” If ever there was a childhood taunt that time…and political correctness have proven fallacious, it’s this aphorism. Today it seems virtually everything can be construed as offensive and hurtful, regardless of intent. When restaurateur Hanif Mohamed launched the Urban Taqueria on Albuquerque’s First Street, he certainly didn’t intend to offend his customers when he christened his tacos and burritos with such politically charged names as “Lock Her Up,” “The Wall” and “Popular Vote.” He meant “to keep the conversation going as to what’s happening around us.” There was such an outcry from the less than one-percent of customers who took umbrage at those menu items that Urban Taqueria received publicity from such national media institutions as Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal.
“Hidden in plain sight in the middle of the city.” That’s how Guy Fieri, host of the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (Triple D) show, described the Monte Carlo Steakhouse in Albuquerque when he first visited in 2008. In a September episode of Triple D Nation, Fieri returned to the Monte Carlo for a quick visit. The short segment was largely a loving tribute to Angelina “Mama” Katsaros, who founded the restaurant with her husband. Mama passed away in 2009, but her tried and true recipes remain the foundation for the restaurant’s success. Those of us who remember her kindness and hospitality enjoyed the nostalgia of seeing mama interact with Triple D’s bombastic blonde host.
There’s a booming black market for the world’s most stolen food. If you’re thinking caviar, truffles, chocolate or steak, you’d be wrong. The most pilfered food on the planet is cheese, some estimates indicating that as much as four-percent of the world’s cheese production is stolen annually, accounting for over $100 billion. Thankfully there’s still enough cheese left over for turophiles like me to enjoy our favorite cheesy dishes. The Food Network compiled a list of the “50 Best Cheesy Dishes by State” and it probably won’t surprise you to learn New Mexico’s best cheesy dish is chile rellenos. According to the Food Network feature, “chile rellenos have been a menu mainstay for more than four decades at family-owned restaurant El Patio de Albuquerque.” Among the Land of Enchantment’s neighbors, the cheesy choices were cheese enchiladas for Texas, cheese crisps in Arizona and lobster macaroni and cheese in Colorado. (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)
Albuquerque, Alamagordo…what’s the difference? Las Cruces. Well, that’s just a suburb of Albuquerque, isn’t it? Trusted Source, an independent insurance service had better be more trustworthy when it comes to covering your automobile, home or business than it is with your geographical needs. In compiling its list of “The Ultimate End-of-Summer Ice Cream Road Trip,” Trusted Source wants to send you to Caliche’s Frozen Custard in Albuquerque. The only problem is that Caliche’s is in Alamagordo and Las Cruces, not in Albuquerque. Trusted Source indicated: “Frozen custard’s thickness has earned it the nickname ‘concrete’ in the Midwest. But here in the Southwest corner of the country, this unique shop calls them ‘caliches.’ Packed with gooey bits, fudges, and candies, these rich treats are a must-have on a hot New Mexican day, especially the Big Hawaiian— mmmmmmmmm MMM!”
There’s more than one reason New Mexico is known as the Land of Enchantment. Lynn, the “Key Lime Burquena” whose New Mexico Enchantment blog celebrates the state will tell you “the vistas of New Mexico are some of the most beautiful in the nation.” You can drive through and pass by many of those vistas, some of whom are highlighted in Thrillist’s feature on “The Most Scenic Drive in Every State.” Apparently enjoying the scenery on New Mexico’s El Camino Real National Scenic Byway will build up your appetite: “This is certainly one of the most storied roads on this list. El Camino Real was first used by Spanish explorers in the late 16th century, but it’s also home to some pretty righteous rock formations. This road trip, though, is one worth taking for the food alone. Stop in San Antonio (not the Texas one) for a green chili cheeseburger at Owl Bar. In Santa Fe, you’re looking for the Roque’s Carnitas food truck. In Albuquerque, and you have to just trust us here, head to Duran Central Pharmacy and ask for the chili.” Of course, if you ask for “chili” you just might be told to drive another five hours to Texas. The Land of Enchantment doesn’t do “chili.”
This is Tucson, the “Tucson BFF making sure you and your family don’t miss out on the best things to do or best things to eat all over town” decided to take a road trip, probably to exchange sweltering heat for mouth-watering heat. They crossed the border into New Mexico and decided to “Take The Green Chile Trail to Hatch, New Mexico.” Proclaiming Arizona as “chile central this time of year,” This is Tucson discovered for itself that chile in Arizona is not like chile in New Mexico, not by a long shot. On the way to the Hatch chile festival, the writer enjoyed chile in Lordsburg and Deming, quickly determining that “the game stepped up the closer we got to Hatch.” Sparky’s, “one of the best green chile cheeseburgers in the U.S.” was a terrific revelation.
I am a Food Blog, a recipe and travel blog written by a husband and wife team from California, chronicled an off-the-beaten trip to the Land of Enchantment in which the adventurous couple went in search of “The Best Green Chile Cheeseburger in New Mexico.” Their guide was the New Mexico Tourism Department’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail. The couple described our state’s sacrosanct burger very well: “They’re a Southwest invention and in New Mexico, they’re a source of state pride. Green chile cheeseburgers are practically a state symbol and now, when I see the New Mexico flag, a red sun symbol in a field of yellow, I imagine the yellow as cheese and picture the red sun as a green chile. I’m officially obsessed.” Some of their favorite finds came from such New Mexico standards as The Owl in San Antonio, Rockin’ BZ Burgers in Alamagordo and MAS Tapas Y Vino in Albuquerque.
Nutrition experts consider breakfast the most important meal of the day, but for some reason breakfast is also the meal most often skipped across the fruited plain. A recent survey revealed that only 47-percent of Americans eat breakfast daily. We might all have a greater desire to get up in the morning if we ate better foods than sugary cereals and stale toast. Perhaps if we started the day with some of the foods listed on the Daily Meal’s “Most Iconic Breakfast Foods in America,” we’d be more inclined not to skip the most important meal of the day. Among the most iconic breakfast foods under spacious skies are the breakfast burrito which was invented in New Mexico and which Daily Meal described as “the perfect street food.”
While the United States can boast of a bounty of exceptional foods, Far & Wide “rounded up every state’s best signature food — items that are, more than delicious, central to the culture of the place.” In a feature entitled “Best Signature Food In Every U.S. State,” Far & Wide decided New Mexico’s signature dish is (you’ll never guess)…green chile: “As the Chile Capital of the World, New Mexico is home to 26 species of chile peppers. The most popular is the hatch green chile, which is confusingly actually a red chile pepper that’s been harvested before it’s fully ripe. And it does more than just add heat to your food. Green chiles also have as much vitamin C as six (!!) oranges and can boost your metabolism.” According to Far & Wide, the best green chile dishes are to be found in Las Cruces at El Patron “where the pepper adds kick to brisket nachos, chicken enchiladas, posole and even upside-down cake.”
For a bite of nostalgia, The Daily Meal sought out 50 drive-in restaurants from around the country that are still operating and thriving today. Fans of Breaking Bad as well as its unofficial publicist Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos (BOTVOLR) will be delighted to see Albuquerque’s Dog House Drive-In on the list. At the Dog House “you will find foot-long hot dogs and other classic drive-in fare like Frito pie, burgers and shakes.” Also making the list is Albuquerque’s Mac’s Steak in the Rough, for which The Daily Meal recommends “you want to stop there for the taquitos, which are best eaten dipped in guacamole.”
Not in a million years will you guess what USA Today determined was the Land of Enchantment’s most iconic food. In a compilation of “The Most Iconic Foods in Every State,” USA Today partnered with 24/7 Tempo to pick the one food which best represents the culinary culture of each state. New Mexico’s most iconic food was deemed to be (drumroll, please) roasted green chile: “Fire-roasted green hatch chile peppers are a prevalent ingredient in New Mexico cuisine. They’re served on pizzas and burgers, blended into sauces and stews and provide a wallop of flavor with just the right amount of heat.”
After an absence of several years, Food Network glitterati Guy Fieri made his triumphant return to the Land of Enchantment for a segment of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. This time he parked his trademark 1968 Camaro convertible in front of Arable, the farm-to-table restaurant in the bedroom community of Eldorado, just east of Santa Fe. Chef and co-owner Renee Fox, herself a veteran of quality Food Network programming, wowed the spike-coiffed celebrity chef with her Bison Gravy “Poutine” and a lamb sandwich he’s probably still dreaming about. You may remember Renee from her July appearance on the Food Network’s Bite Club when she bested two other chefs to earn the title of Bite Club Champ for Santa Fe.
The Spanish Colonial charm of Santa Fe, perhaps the state’s most culturally rich and historic destination, has been enchanting travelers for more than four centuries. Among recent visitors was Kathryne Taylor, author of America’s most popular vegetarian food blog, Cookie and Kate. During a short honeymoon in the City Different, Kathryne and her husband packed more activities and meals than some of us do in an entire year. She shared details on her blog, calling the feature a Santa Fe Food & Travel Guide. Not surprisingly the happy newlyweds “loved the fresh Southwestern cooking style and could not get enough green chiles.” Among their favorites were Cafe Pasqual’s for enchiladas, Terra for chiles rellenos and Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen for margaritas. Surprisingly they found Geronimo “too buttoned-up for my taste.” Cookie, the “crumb-catching mutt” for whom the blog is named didn’t accompany Kathryne to Santa Fe. (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)
A recent head-scratching compilation by Thrillist showcased its unofficial list of the best bar food in every state. Okay, boiled peanuts served across Georgia’s bars, taverns, pubs, saloons, dives and cantinas is a plausible choice and maybe habitues of establishments specializing in adult beverages in Illinois do favor popcorn, but how many of you have ever found a bar in the Land of Enchantment that offers sopaipillas? According to Thrillist, sopaipillas are the state’s favorite accompaniment to adult libations. Thrillist declared: ” Sopapillas might as well be the New Mexican state food. These pillowy fried dough cakes can be sweet or savor: stuffed with taco fixings or smothered with chile sauce or honey. Any way they come, they compliment drinks excellently. Cantinas often offer them alongside chips and salsa, which offers the drinker sufficient fortification to excuse an extra margarita.”
The Food Network noted that with nearly 100,000 miles of shoreline, it’s no surprise that Americans are into a multitude of diverse seafood specialties. In a feature titled 50 States of Seafood, the Food Network noted that although the landlocked Land of Enchantment “doesn’t have its own style of seafood; what it lacks in indigenous marine creatures, it makes up for in regional Mexican cuisine hailing from up and down our neighbor’s coastline.” According to the Food Network, New Mexico’s premier exemplar of magnificent Mexican seafood is Mariscos Altamar: “With two Albuquerque-area locations, Mariscos Altamar is a top pick for Latin-influenced seafood like crab enchiladas, shrimp cocktail and Altamar soup filled to the brim with fish, shrimp, octopus and real crab legs in a tomato-based broth.”
If a hole in the wall is defined as “a small, inconspicuous place, often an establishment such as a restaurant,” MSN certainly found one in New Mexico. In a feature titled Best Hole-in-the-Wall Spots for Fried Chicken, MSN didn’t select one of the heavily trafficked “usual suspects” in Santa Fe or Albuquerque. Instead its choice was Big Daddy’s Diner in Cloudcroft. “Located in the Lincoln National Forest near a camping and resort area, Big Daddy’s Diner gets a lot of tourists and visitors. They all get to enjoy country cooking in a restaurant that feels like a home inside, with lots of knick-knacks and photos on the walls. The fried chicken is called Henny Penny here, and it’s got a lightly colored coating that’s flecked with spices and served alongside wedge taters.”
East Coast transplants to the Land of Enchantment commiserate about the absence in New Mexico of classic delis which sell a selection of fine, unusual or foreign prepared foods, often foods smoked and cured on the premises. By strict definition New Mexico doesn’t have many true delis, but we do have some prodigious purveyors of sumptuous sandwiches. MSN’s compilation of the most famous deli in each state included such paragons of delicatessen deliciousness as the moan-generating Katz’s Deli in New York City and the enormous epicurean epicenter Zingerman’s in Michigan. According to MSN, New Mexico’s most famous deli is Albuquerque’s Relish which the feature described as “famous for its award-winning sandwiches.”
New Mexico has a reputation of being a state which “rolls up the sidewalk,” an expression used to describe places where businesses close up early and night life is very limited (translation: bars close early). Within the Land of Enchantment’s comatose cities, sleepy suburbs and torpid towns there are very few restaurants that remain open past ten. Scouring the fruited plain, MSM uncovered 46 restaurants to satisfy late night cravings and only one restaurant in New Mexico made the list. Albuquerque’s Frontier Restaurant has been sating sleepless diners for generations and was recognized as a “special restaurant” serving “good, fresh tortillas made on-the-spot and out-of-this-world cinnamon rolls that would make even John Wayne smile.”
In compiling a list of the 101 most iconic restaurant dishes in America, the Daily Meal didn’t just regurgitate previous lists of the usual suspects. It actually established some pretty exacting criteria for defining a dish as iconic. For example: “If it’s been around for decades, if the definitive version is still served at the restaurant that created it, and if it’s earned legions of loyal fans, then it might be an icon.” The green chile stew at Santa Fe’s legendary The Shed certainly fits the bill. MSN described this enchanting establishment as “quite possibly the best place in the state to get your fix of dishes prepared with New Mexico’s famed Hatch chiles. While the posole is also spectacular, the green chile stew is the one to order; made with roasted chiles, potatoes and chunks of lean pork, it’s everything that’s great about New Mexican cuisine in one iconic bowl.”
Not since Jean Paul Sartre mused about the meaning of life has such a deeply contemplative matter been posited as the Food Network’s observation that “the greatest thing since sliced bread” is “pizza by the slice.” The Food Network took it a step further by compiling a list of the 50 best pizza slices by state. Its choice for New Mexico was Santa Fe’s Back Road Pizza, an off-the-beaten-path gem away from the famous Plaza. The Food Network suggests “Taste a thin-crust pizza at this neighborhood restaurant and you may detect a tinge of Santa Fe’s signature flavors, from the flour crusts rolled in cornmeal to the locally-sourced ingredients that adorn many of the slices and pies. Topping choices include New Mexico green chiles, as well as beef and pork sourced from ranchers in the region. And the spot’s sauces, dressings and signature dough are all made in-house. The pizza dough alone has won this place a legion of local followers, as well as featured media spots that include an appearance on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”
As the summer of 2019 winds down, men across the spacious skies are clinging to the last vestiges of summer. “Summer is that time of the year when a man thinks he can cook better outdoors on a grill than any woman can cook indoors using an entire kitchen.” There’s both truth and wisdom in that pithy and percipient aphorism. Thankfully, those of us with the XY-chromosome pairing can console ourselves that when summer is over, we can still enjoy barbecue. The Food Network tells us where in it feature, “The Best Barbecue Joint in Every State.” Its choice for New Mexico is Sparky’s Burgers, Barbecue & Espresso in Hatch described thusly: “Find great smoked meat at this kitschy burger joint filled to the brim with vintage memorabilia and knickknacks — including an awesome moose head capped with a hat fit for a park ranger. The place is best known for its excellent chile cheeseburger, but it also offers a unique, New Mexican take on smoked meat. The best way to sample the goods is with the Oinker, the infamous Hatch green chile cheeseburger topped with a healthy serving of smoked pulled pork. Purists may prefer to stick with simpler barbecue plates featuring slow-cooked meats like sliced brisket, sausage and spare ribs.”
The third episode of season two of the Food Network’s Bite Club premiered on July 8th. Dubbed “Duel in the Desert,” it pitted three of the Duke City’s most talented chefs–Kenny Wang of O Ramen, Marie Yniguez of Bocadillos Slow Roasted and Nabil Young of Safari Grill–against each other in a culinary competition to determine who would become hometown Bite Club champ. The Bite Club battle took place at the Pueblo Harvest Cafe‘s kitchen. In the first round each chef was asked to bring a secret ingredient. For Chef Wang, it was dried shiitake mushrooms. Chef Yniguez brought fresh pork chorizo while Chef Young’s ingredient of choice was mustard seeds. The chefs had thirty-minutes to use all three secret ingredients to make the best dish possible. The round one winner would earn a five minute cooking advantage for round two.
Judging the competition were Santa Fe’s James Beard award-winning chef Mark Kiffin and multi-time James Beard award semi-finalist Jennifer James. Winning the first round was Chef Young who created chorizo kebabs with mushroom curry and mustard seed rice and a side of green chile chutney. In the second round, the judges provided an ingredient which best bespeaks of Albuquerque’s culinary culture. Jennifer brought pinto beans. Marc’s ingredient was the Hoja Santa leaf, an aromatic Mexican herb. Host Tyler Florence contributed sopaipillas. While all three prepared truly outstanding dishes, at the end it was Chef Yniguez’s grandmother-inspired take on Hoja Santa scramble with chile-chorizo refried beans that prevailed.
The Bite Club also visited Santa Fe where it staged “Duel in the Desert,” a competition of three of Santa Fe’s best chefs vying for the title of hometown champ. For his secret ingredient Chef Patrick Lambert of Cowgirl BBQ brought jerk spices, Chef Renee Fox of Arable chose hard apple cider and Chef Xavier Grenet of L’Olivier brought the house down with his choice of sweet breads. Judging the event held at the Coyote Cafe’s kitchen were scintillating four-time James Beard award-winning cookbook author Cheryl Alters Jamison and two-time New Mexico Chef of the Year Martin Rios. Despite not plating his buere blanc sauce, Chef Lambert won the first round with a wildly creative creation featuring green apple sweetbreads with Jamaican mop sauce and crispy tostones.
The judges furnished authentic local ingredients used in Santa Fe cuisine for the finale. Cheryl brought New Mexico’s official state cookie, the biscochito. Chef Rios selected cantaloupe while host Tyler Florence surprised the chefs with huitlacoche, a Mexican truffle broadly known as “corn smut.” Chef Fox earned the coveted title of Santa Fe’s Fight Club Champ with a huitlacoche soup paired with biscochito-crusted prawn and tropical salsa. The soup was laded onto the plates tableside. The dish was well-balanced and complex with ingredients providing complementary and contrasting notes.
New Mexicans had to wonder if Colorado Governor Jared Polis hasn’t been partaking of the state’s premier cash crop. How else can you explain his audacious claim: “About time! Whole Foods Market will soon offer Pueblo Chile, widely acknowledged as the best chile in the world, in Colorado and throughout the Rocky Mountain region. Whole Foods will stock 125,000 pounds of Pueblo Chile in Colorado, Kansas, Idaho and Utah. New Mexico stores will unfortunately not be offering the best chile and will instead keep offering inferior New Mexico chile.” “Widely Acknowledged?” Regardless of party affiliation, denizens of the Land of Enchantment united in applauding Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s response: “If Pueblo chile were any good, it would have been on national shelves before now. If Colorado wants to go chile to chile, no question that New Mexico can bring the heat – Hatch chile is, has always been and will always be the greatest in the world.” Of course, the only way to determine which chile really is the best in the world is mano a mano. Here’s one guy who’d love to judge that competition.
You can’t keep a great woman down! A heart attack, triple bypass surgery, ovarian cancer and systemic lupus certainly couldn’t keep Dagmar Schultze Mondragon away from her passion. She surmounted those setbacks and more to pursue her lifelong dream of making diners happy by feeding them the best German food in the Southwest. After an absence of five years, Dagmar has launched a new eatery in Rio Rancho (2704 Southern Blvd.). Her new venture, Dagmar’s Delectables, features strudels, sausages (including a terrific liverwurst), marzipan and the best Brötchen you’ll ever have. Dagmar’s 1,300 square-foot space is recessed from Southern and there’s no sign to announce its presence. Just look for the building which once housed the legendary Noda’s Japanese Cuisine which many of us old-timers still miss.
What is it with the print media today (other than unabashed bias)? On the same day, the Albuquerque Journal published the egregious headline “Woman fatally shot by deputies armed with knife,” my friend Sarita alerted me to a Big 7 Travel feature entitled “The 50 Best Fried Chicken Restaurants in America.” Rather than listing the 50 best fried chicken restaurants, the feature actually turned out to be a compilation of the one best fried chicken joint from every state. Sadly, that seems to be the only way fried chicken in New Mexico gets noticed. At least Big 7 Travel got New Mexico’s best right, naming Frank’s Chicken & Waffles as the Land of Enchantment’s superior fried chicken. Big 7 Travel noted: “These crispy chicken wings are some of the best fried chicken in America you’ll ever taste. The vibe of this homey restaurant is just as good as the food. Don’t leave without trying the Famous Jr.: three crunchy wings and a fluffy waffle, with a dollop of whipped cinnamon butter.” (Thank you, Sarita)
The Food Network recognizes that “There are no rules when it comes to nachos.” The catch-as-catch-can approach to nachos means the sky’s the limit when it comes to inventiveness and “seemingly infinite arrangements.” In compiling the “50 States of Nachos,” the Food Network determined New Mexico’s best nachos come from the Rio Chama Steakhouse in Santa Fe. According to the Food Network, “Green chile pervades New Mexican cooking, and the nachos at earthy, Southwestern-style Rio Chama Steakhouse in downtown Santa Fe are no exception. Topped with a melange of fire-roasted chile sauce, chicken, cheese, pico de gallo, sour cream and guacamole, these nachos often pave the way for the 48-hour-brined prime rib.”
The Daily Meal believes “Having an unlimited amount of food at our disposal has been a goal of humans for thousands upon thousands of years, and achieving that goal by simply forking over some cash and grabbing a plate satisfies us in a way that can best be described as primal.” That’s a contention with which cultural anthropologists will heartily agree. Daily Meal advises you come hungry when you partake of “The Best All You Can Eat Deals in Every State.” That’s certainly true when you visit Daily Meal’s choice for New Mexico, Albuquerque’s Tomato Cafe. Daily Meal called the Tomato Cafe “a local Albuquerque, New Mexico, favorite since 1993.” “Tomato Café offers a wide-ranging and very tasty spread of traditional Italian-American classics. A fresh salad bar, several types of soups, pizzas (including gluten-free crust), four types of pasta or polenta with your choice of six sauces, meatballs, ravioli, and vegetable sides are all available for just $9.99 for lunch and $11.99 for dinner.” (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)
“I’m an American. We can eat anything as long as it’s between two pieces of bread.” That’s not solely novelist Jim Butcher‘s sentiment. It seems there’s no limit to what Americans will put between two pieces of bread and call it “sandwich.” Just study “The 50 Best Sandwiches in America” list compiled by Big 7 Travel. You’ll find a drool-worthy array of ingredient combinations as inventive and (ostensibly) delicious as it seems possible to create. New Mexico was very well represented by the “Filthy” from Albuquerque’s Bocadillos Slow Roasted. Big 7 described it well: “Bocadillos is a local sandwich shop in Albuquerque that slow roasts all their meats for at least 12 hours. All of the meat here is so full and flavour and tender that you won’t want to eat a sandwich anywhere else. For a real treat get the ‘Filthy’, with slow roast chicken breast and bacon that’s topped with melted Asadero cheese.”
If there’s one American food that transcends seasons it’s the ubiquitous burger. Outstanding burgers can be found throughout the fruited plain. Perhaps the most formidable Kobayashi Maru challenge would be putting together a list of the 101 best burgers in America, but that’s precisely what The Daily Meal did. Surprisingly only one burger from the Land of Enchantment made the list, but it’s a great one. At the tail-end of the list, ranking 101st is the green chile cheeseburger from Burger Boy in Cedar Crest. The Daily Meal wrote: “Burger Boy has been a Cedar Crest, New Mexico, hangout since 1982, and it’s a simple, no-frills lunch counter and dining room with basically the same staff, owners and regulars since it opened. Burgers here are 1/3-pound patties of fresh ground beef, seared on a flat-top and tucked into a no-frills bun with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and onions, but you’re going to want to do as the locals do and get some chopped green Hatch chiles added.” (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)
In 2002, my dear friend and frequent contributor to Gil’s Thrilling…, Becky Mercuri published a wonderful tome called “Food Festival, U.S.A.: Red, White and Blue Ribbon Recipes From All 50 States.” The book captured “the diversity of America’s numerous food festivals, presenting 250 recipes from all 50 states, region by region.” It remains a classic, maybe even a source for The Daily Meal’s compilation of “The Best Food Festival in Every State.” It probably won’t surprise you to read that New Mexico’s best food festival is the Hatch chile festival. Here’s why: “Chiles are a staple of New Mexican cuisine, and the area surrounding the village of Hatch in particular is known for its Hatch chiles; the local variety is celebrated every Labor Day weekend with a two-day festival. More than 30,000 people come every year to the Hatch Chili Festival to enjoy various chili recipes, demonstrations on how to make ristras (traditional New Mexican decorations consisting of an arrangement of dried chile pepper pods, garlic bulbs and other vegetables), a chile eating contest, parade, carnival, crafts and more.” Somehow The Daily Meal committed the egregious error of misspelling “chile” in the festival’s title.
FamilyMinded, an online presence which purports to “celebrate and support families and parents by covering the joys, challenges, and surprises of modern family life” recognizes one thing that makes families very happy is ice cream. Its compilation of “The Best Ice Cream in Every State” will certainly up your cravings for the delicious summer treat. New Mexico’s best ice cream comes from Nitro Fog Creamery in Albuquerque, described by Family Minded thusly: “Everything at Nitro Fog Creamery is hip, uber local and high-tech. This food outlet at Green Jeans Farmery in Albuquerque uses only the freshest ingredients possible, all packaging is environmentally responsible, and the ice cream is made in small batches, using a blast of liquid nitrogen. It’s super fun to watch the whole ice cream-making process — the kids will love it! — and the rotating menu of flavors is unique, to say the least. Recent flavors included rum cherry pecan (made with fruit soaked in Broken Trail rum) and java chip (crafted from cold-pressed coffee from Epiphany Espresso).
The Food Network contends that “It’s not a party without cake — and whether you like a simple buttery Bundt or an impressive multilayered confection, there’s no shortage of ways to end a celebration on a sweet note.” Its compilation of “The Best Cakes in Every State” provided fifty ways to give every celebration a fitting end. The Land of Enchantment’s stand-out bakery was Q’s Cakes, an Albuquerque purveyor about which the Food Network wrote: “This New Mexico bakery specializes in rosette-swirled frosting exteriors. But the cake on the inside as as good as the packing on the outside is beautiful. Flavors include Howie Wowie, a caramel cake with a New Mexican red chile-spiced caramel apple filling. The original is the Red Velvet, with cream cheese frosting.”
Bacon and eggs, breakfast sandwiches, pancakes and waffles…you can get those anywhere across the fruited plain, but there are some breakfast dishes that can be found only in the Land of Enchantment. The Daily Meal’s compilation of “Regional Breakfast Foods That You Didn’t Know Existed” named just one attributed to our great state: enchiladas montadas: “You’ve probably heard of eating enchiladas for dinner, but you may not have seen how people eat them for breakfast. In New Mexico, the Southwestern dinner dish is transformed into a hearty, huge breakfast. It consists of the usual mountain of tortilla, beans, cheese, peppers and chili sauce, but is topped with an egg. This dish is proof that you really can top anything with an egg and call it breakfast.” What is it about The Daily Meal that it insists on misspelling New Mexico’s official state vegetable? We don’t do chili here!
Never mind what goes well on a burger. New Mexicans know what goes best on a burger is green chile. It’s almost sacrilegious across the Land of Enchantment not to top burgers with our sacrosanct official state vegetable. In its compilation of the 12 best burger toppings, Thrillist ranked “chopped chiles” as the sixth best topping (behind bacon, pickles, condiments, onions and cheese). Heresy! It gets worse. The writer listed New Mexico behind Colorado: “…ask for chopped chiles on your In-N-Out burger… or any really at any burger place where chopped chiles are available (lookin’ at you, most of Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona) The result is magical; the tang and spice cut through the heaviness of a cheesy double-double and leaves you wanting more. Not only is spicy food some of the best food, it’s supposedly good for you to eat hot peppers. Whether it’s jalapeños, pepperoncinis, or green chiles, throw some tongue-tingling peppers on your burgers and spice up your life.” (Thank you, BOTVOLR)
While Gil’s Thrilling… loves celebrating the Land of Enchantment’s restaurants and sharing with you what national publications have to say about them, I don’t shy away from calling out the national media when they don’t do their homework. The most recent culprit was a collaborative effort between Women’s Day and MSN Lifestyle who joined together to compile a list of the “Best BBQ Joints in Every State.” In an example of lazy journalism, they listed the Land of Enchantment’s best barbecue as coming from Rudy’s Country Store & Bar-B-Q. While Rudy’s does proffer a very good barbecue product, it’s a Texas product born and raised in Leon Springs, Texas. The fact that a Texas barbecue chain has a presence in New Mexico doesn’t make it New Mexico barbecue!
“America The Tasty” may not make it onto the national anthem or be mentioned on the same lyrics with spacious skies, fruited plain and amber waves of grain, but it was the title of the cover story for Reader’s Digest’s July-August edition. Editors at Reader’s Digest partnered with Taste of Home to find the “most delicious food in every state.” Pork tamales were decreed New Mexico’s signature dish while a paragraph with the heading of “Who Knew?” explained that “Locals order their tamales “red” or “green” depending on their chile pepper preference. Want Both? Order yours “Christmas-style.” Interestingly, posole was named Arizona’s signature dish while Colorado’s signature dish is green chile pork.
For faqs.com, a lifestyle site team staffed with “Internet ninjas” who scour the internet for “original and engaging content,” the choice is more obvious, especially to denizens of the Land of Enchantment. In a feature titled “50 States, 50 Must Try Dishes,” Captain Obvious, er…faqs.com declared New Mexico’s must try dish to be green chile, noting that “Red and green chiles are part of every meal in New Mexico.” My dear friend Becky Mercuri will be happy to read that the chimichangas are the dish to try in Arizona while daring diners in Colorado enjoy Rocky Mountain oysters (probably when they have a case of the munchies).
Across the country, there’s no shortage of great steakhouses. So declares the Daily Meal in its compilation of the Best Steakhouse in Every State. New Mexico’s best has been pleasing carnivorous palates in Santa Fe for nearly half a century. The Daily Meal described the Bull Ring as “comfortable and low-key” and as “a Santa Fe landmark and a carnivore’s dream.” “The restaurant prides itself on serving only corn-fed USDA Prime beef, hand-cut on-premises daily. Make sure you start with some onion rings and a cup of their green chile stew (as one does in New Mexico), then move on to a fillet, rib-eye, New York strip, prime rib, porterhouse or El Matador (a sirloin strip served with green chile, sautéed mushrooms and onion straws). You really can’t go wrong.” (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)
When you’re done with your steak at the Bull Ring, it’s not far to Daily Meal’s choice for “The Best Ice Cream Stand in Every State.” For the second year in a row, Daily Meal’s choice is Santa Fe’s La Lecheria which has relocated to the downtown area. Daily Meal noted: “La Lecheria is the separate ice cream business of Santa Fe chef Joel Coleman of Fire & Hops fame. Coleman uses traditional flavors from New Mexico, such as red and green chiles or mole, in his seasonal ice cream offerings that are loved by locals and visitors alike.” La Lecheria has expanded beyond ice cream, now offering cookies, coffee cake and baked goods. (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)
The Daily Meal describes brunch thusly: “not only is it a celebration of the leisurely weekend afternoon, it’s a time to get together with friends, shake off the events of the night before, and consume far more calories than should be socially acceptable.” In a feature recognizing “The Best Brunch In Every State,” The Daily Meal lavished praise (as it often does) on The Pantry in Santa Fe where “you’ll find everything you could ever possibly want for breakfast here, as well as a bunch of traditional New Mexican specialties and a wide variety of lunch and dinner options as well.” The Daily Meal recapped it perfectly: “This is a Southwestern brunch at its finest.”
It was a very busy month for The Daily Meal which also compiled “The Best Pizza in Every State.” You’ll want to tell all your neighbors and friends about New Mexico’s best, Il Vicino. With four New Mexico locations, Il Vicino’s “pizzas are baked hot and fast in a wood-fired oven, made with fresh, high-quality ingredients, and inspired by chef Tom White’s trips to Italy.” Perhaps we’ll soon see Il Vicino also named “best pizza” in Colorado and Kansas, the two states where the purveyor of wood oven pizzeria has expanded. (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)
James Beard, the cook, author and champion of American cuisine proclaimed “Too few people really understand a really good sandwich.” New Mexicans are grateful that among us are savant sandwich-makers who have a great grasp of the meat to bread to condiment ratio. Far & Wide did “a deep dive into the culinary history and local specialties of each and every state in order to identify its emblematic sandwich.” In its “Best Sandwich In Every U.S. State” feature, Far & Wide named not one, but two superb sandwiches: “New Mexico is known for green chiles, so it’s little wonder that they end up on the state’s most delicious sandwiches. At Relish, the “Albuquerque Turkey” features turkey, havarti, chile and chipotle mayo on toasted sourdough. The TNA at Slow Roasted Bocadillos in Albuquerque, meanwhile, boasts slow-roasted honey-mustard turkey, house-made green apple chile chutney, avocado, lettuce, tomato and muenster cheese.” (Thank you, Tom Molitor)
The aphorism “as American as apple pie” confirms that apple pie has become “a symbol for everything that is good, wholesome and all-American.” Whether served hot or cold, with whipped cream or a la mode, with or without Cheddar, apple pie is America’s favorite pie and it really isn’t even close. In a recent nationwide poll, 47-percent of respondents declared it their favorite pie. Apple pie is served all across the fruited plain, but if you want to find the very best, you need to consult The Daily Meal’s feature “Where to Find America’s Best Apple Pies.” It stands to reason that a town whose very name includes “Pie” would make the list and indeed it does. The Pie Town Cafe in Pie Town, New Mexico is a treasure. Here’s what The Daily Meal had to say: “This café (formerly known as The Daily Pie Café) is famous for its New Mexican apple pie which is loaded with apples as well as pine nuts (grown in New Mexico) and hot green chiles for a surprising hit of heat that, with the sweet, flaky crust and tart Granny Smith apples is unbelievably and intensely, delicious.” (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)
State fairs are renowned for their deep-fried ridiculousness. Fried butter? Iowa’s got it. Fried pig’s ears? You can find them in Minnesota’s state fair. Fried beer? That’s a Texas tradition. The Food Network contends that “Fair food’s deep-fried reputation has gotten a makeover, thanks to food line-ups that highlight pride-of-state agriculture, regional foodways and local vendors.” Making the Food Network’s “50 Best Fair Foods by State” is an incomparable New Mexico State Fair delight: “For the quintessential New Mexico bite, opt for Navajo tacos topped with roasted, peeled and chopped green chiles. Made of Navajo fry bread, a fried round of dough that’s pillowy-soft inside and golden-crisp outside, the tacos come topped with seasoned ground beef, pinto beans, cheese, lettuce, onions, tomato and plenty of the spicy peppers. Look for Navajo fry bread and tacos in the Indian Village at vendors like Zina’s Blue Corn Café, Navajo Café, Native Café and Harvest Café.”
The “Absolute Best Taco Place in Every State.” That sounds like a pretty audacious claim considering the explosion in popularity of the now ubiquitous taco. MSN worked with Yelp to compile a list of exemplary taco joints, ranking them using such factors as total volume and ratings of reviews in 2019. Named as New Mexico’s best taco place is the quaintly-named and spellchecker-confounding Dia De Los Takos in Albuquerque. Here’s what MSN had to say: “Did anyone else this restaurant name and think El Dia De Los Muertos? Head to the beautiful city of Albuquerque for epic hikes and to nosh on delicious tacos at Dia De Los Takos, including the electric bike, a vegan taco that comprises crispy sweet potato, cashew cheese and guacamole.” As if your peripatetic blogger needed further prompting, MSN’s listing may be the impetus needed for me to make the trek to our state’s best tako place. Care to join me, Captain Tuttle?
Sadly, New Mexico’s “culinary scene” also got some national press for a rather distasteful reason–a reason so ignominious that MSN’s headline was reminiscent of a Godzilla movie. In addition to roiling your stomach, the headline “A New Mexico Town is Being Terrorized by Unwanted Bologna Sandwiches That Reek of Urine” might just make you wonder what Yelpers would say. Apparently in a Southeast Albuquerque neighborhood, “someone has been dropping mysterious and very much unwanted bologna sandwiches on their doorsteps in the middle of the night. And they reek of urine.” On that sour note…
After the onset of World War II, the American workforce quickly became greatly depleted when young men volunteered to serve in the armed forces. Though women rose up to fill the labor gap, America’s farms still needed help. In response, President Roosevelt struck a deal with the Mexican president to bring Mexican farm workers across the border on temporary contracts. The Mexican Farm Labor Program, commonly known as the “Bracero Program” ensued. In Southern New Mexico, the town of La Mesa and its crown jewel restaurant Chope’s earned a reputation for fair and kind treatment of the braceros. That account is very well described in an Eater feature entitled “Order the Enchilada, Remember the Bracero.” It’s a must read for New Mexico history buffs.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a theopany as “a visible manifestation of a deity.” Whether or not the 1989 discovery of the face of Jesus on a tortilla qualifies as a theopany, there’s no denying that the discovery greatly changed the lives of the Rubio family from Lake Arthur, New Mexico. Thousands of visitors have trekked to the small hamlet to see the famous “Jesus tortilla.” Eater chronicles the real story of “Christ on the Comal” in a very intriguing article written by Angelica Rubio, a New Mexico state legislator serving Las Cruces and a member of the family to whom the famous tortilla was made manifest.
Depicted on the cover of American Airlines’ Celebrated Living magazine, is a ruggedly handsome man sporting a broad-brimmed cowboy hat. Though he could pass for the star of a Hollywood western, this man is more likely to carry a spatula and a whisk than a pair of six shooters. He’s more likely to settle a dispute over a bowl of his signature mole than to challenge any black hat-wearing varmint to a draw. He’s Chef Fernando Olea, chef-owner of Sazon, an AAA four-diamond award-winning gourmet Mexican restaurant and mezcalaria in Santa Fe. In an interview with Celebrated Living, Chef Olea speaks with pride about his creation of a unique New Mexican mole which showcases ingredients native to the Land of Enchantment. This mole is life-changing, a conversion experience for diners who may think they don’t like mole.
The Daily Meal compiled a list of several hundred of America’s best taco joints and their most sought-after individual taco then narrowed down the list to the top 75. “In order to stand apart from the pack, these tacos had to have clean, vibrant and varied flavors, with each component good enough to stand on its own.”
- Making the list at #46 was the al pastor taco at Albuquerque’s Tacos Mex Y Mariscos. The Daily Meal lavished praise on these high-quality paragons of deliciousness: “The spit-roasted pork and grilled pineapple is loaded into double-layered tortillas and sprinkled with cilantro and raw onions, which you can then take over to the salsa bar and garnish with traditional condiments like fiery tomato salsa, guacamole and pico de gallo.”
- Also on the list (at #19) is the shredded beef taco from El Parasol in Santa Fe. “The shell is deep-fried and crackling, and the standout shredded beef is boiled until it’s falling apart and then mixed with a sauce that’s a long-kept secret. Topped with either guacamole or salsa, it’s a crunchy, beefy, Tex-Mex (New-Mex-Mex?) classic.”
- At #10 is New Mexico’s highest-rated taco, the chicken with green chile from The Shed in Santa Fe. The Daily Meal recommends the taco plate: “two fresh blue corn tortillas with baked chicken topped with green chile, cheddar cheese, onion, lettuce and tomato. The chicken is perfectly cooked, but the chile is the real star of the show.” (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)
Not to be outdone, Thrillist compiled a list of the 31 best Mexican restaurants across the fruited plain. As is usually the case, Thrillist used “Mexican restaurant” as an overarching umbrella term for all restaurants on its list, citing the “incredible diversity within the regional cuisines of Mexico and the different directions they’ve taken as they’ve crossed the border, mingled with American palates.” Two of the Land of Enchantment’s very best made the list: Santa Fe’s La Choza and Albuquerque’s Zacatecas which actually closed just a few weeks after the Thrillist honor. Here’s what Thrillist had to say about La Choza: “Spanish for “shed” — a nod to its iconic sister restaurant in Santa Fe Plaza, The Shed — adobe-style La Choza specializes in the New Mexican take on Mexican cuisine. There are homey enchiladas, burritos, chile rellenos, carne adovada, and the like, served with whole pinto beans and hominy. A deluge of green or red chilies can (and should!) be applied to practically any dish, and if you refuse to choose a camp you can always give yourself the gift of Christmas-style.”
Far & Wide contends that “even bad pizza is pretty good, but there are some pizzas that are much better than “still pretty good” – they’re out-of-this-world amazing.” Using TripAdvisor data of all the pizza joints for which reviewers were giving top marks—accounting for overall ratings and the quality and quantity of reviews–Far & Wide compiled a list of the best pizza in every state. The very best pizza in the Land of Enchantment comes from Café Rio in Ruidoso. “Reviewers love: Watching the chefs toss the pizzas — and devouring the aptly named Kitchen Sink pizza, featuring pepperoni, Canadian bacon, salami, mushrooms, bell peppers, red onions, black olives, green olives, fresh jalapenos, green chile, Italian sausage, chopped beef brisket, andouille sausage, pineapple and anchovies.”
May, 2019 is hamburger month, a celebration of the most popular cut of meat under spacious skies. Burgers are “the mainstay of backyard barbecues, the cash cow of fast food restaurants, and come in a million different varieties.” Burgers are the quintessential All-American food. To celebrate Hamburger month, The Daily Meal compiled a list recognizing the best burger in every state. On the east side of the Sandias in a picturesque alpine hamlet is where you’ll find New Mexico’s best burger. “Burger Boy has been a local Cedar Crest, New Mexico destination since 1982, and it’s a simple, no-frills lunch counter and dining room with basically the same staff, owners and regulars since it opened. Burgers here are 1/3-pound patties of fresh ground beef, seared on a flat-top and tucked into a no-nonsense bun with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and onions, but you’re going to want to do as the locals do and get some chopped green Hatch chiles added.” (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)
Comedian Jim Gaffigan once quipped “I’m convinced that anyone who doesn’t like Mexican food is a psychopath.” If you’d like to debate the merit and veracity of his claim, let’s do so over a couple (or a dozen) tamales from Albuquerque’s El Modelo, The Daily Meal’s choice for the best Mexican restaurant in New Mexico. “Back in 1929, Carmen Garcia began using one of the three rooms of her house as a tortilla factory; she would wake up and make them herself starting at 2 a.m. so that she could sell them for breakfast. She added tamales, then expanded the business with her son in 1945, helping to turn it into the New Mexico institution it is today. Now owned by Virginia Chittim, El Modelo still makes rave-worthy tortillas and tamales, along with enchiladas, burritos, tostadas, and sopapillas — many of these featuring New Mexico’s signature red and green chiles.” As it approaches its 90th palate-pleasing year, El Modelo remains the popular choice for tamales, especially around Christmas.” (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)
French writer Voltaire claimed “Opinion has caused more trouble on this little earth than plagues or earthquakes.” Though I usually take opinions with a grain of salt, there are some opinions that just jump out to be argued against. Take for example, the Daily Meal’s contention that Santa Fe is one of “35 great food towns nobody knows about.” Under what rock has The Daily Meal staff been hiding? Santa Fe is world-renowned for its culinary scene and it has been for decades. It would be difficult, however, to argue with some of The Daily Meal’s restaurant recommendations: “Santa Fe is a bastion of Southwestern cuisine, and it has a special love for chiles, so much so that there’s a local slang term for when you want both red and green chiles in your food: Christmas. One of the best American casual restaurants, The Shed, serves up an amazing green chile stew — as well as all things wrapped in a tortilla, which you can also find at Tia Sophia’s or Pink Adobe. If you can’t get enough of tacos, there’s also food truck El Chile Toreado and Palacio Café. For a more upscale New Mexican dining experience, The Anasazi is a good choice or go for the chic vibe at Eloisa where modern twists on Southwestern cuisine fill the menu.” (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)
The Daily Meal redeemed itself (a little) in a feature listing the 101 best casual restaurants in America, a comprehensive ranking it’s been compiling since 2011. The main criterion for designating what constitutes “casual” was price factor: “Can two people fill themselves up and get out for less than $50, excluding tip and alcohol?” You can’t talk casual in New Mexico without mentioning The Pantry in Santa Fe: “In business since 1948, The Pantry is one of New Mexico’s most famous restaurants, and it’s also home to the state’s best brunch. The Pantry ranked 94th in the pantheon of casual greatness. Also making the list, ranking 40th, is perpetual Daily Meal favorite, Santa Fe’s beloved The Shed. “Santa Fe loves the green chiles from Hatch, down in the southern part of New Mexico, and their nearly supernatural ability to pair perfectly with just about any type of food you can think of. At The Shed, in business since 1953, the chiles are grown especially for the restaurant and brought in fresh daily, then processed on site.”
Chances are if you weren’t raised in New Mexico you don’t understand the affinity natives have for Lotaburger, a beloved local hamburger institution since 1952. For many of us who’ve spent significant time outside New Mexico’s enchanted borders, Lotaburger is the first restaurant we look for when we return home. For others of us, Lotaburger is home. MSN recognized Lotaburger’s greatness, listing it among 13 local burger chains the rest of the country needs. “Found mostly in New Mexico with a few locations in Arizona and Texas, Blake’s Lotaburger is best known for its Angus beef patties with Hatch green chiles, New Mexico’s celebrated, smoked chiles with a kick. Lotaburger even made a cameo in the TV series “Breaking Bad.” Fans also go for the Frito pie – Fritos topped with chile con carne and toppings.”
Ask any caloric overachiever on a diet what they crave most and almost invariably the answer will be bread. If we allow ourselves a “cheat day” we’ll devour loaves of bread…truckloads if we can get them. New Mexicans know that some of the very best bread to be found anywhere in the country comes from the most humble of all ovens. Pueblo bread baked in traditional adobe hornos is a staple of the Native Pueblo peoples of the American Southwest. Gastro Obscura celebrated the Pueblo bread-baking traditions: “The shapes of pueblo bread are as diverse as the 19 different New Mexican Native Pueblo tribes: bulbous flowers with crisp golden-brown crust, thick oblong slabs that puff in the oven, knobbed loaves from the Laguna Pueblos known as “elephant toes.”
The Food Network calls mac and cheese “the ultimate comfort food.” In Mississippi, we heard it referred to as “South in your mouth” and as “a side of soul.” Never mind that its genesis is actually Italian. While the combination of boiled pasta, butter and Parmesan cheese first appeared in a cookbook published in 1390, mac and cheese continues to be improved upon…or tampered with, depending on your perspective. The Food Network listed 38 places where you can find “craveworthy versions of the rich, cheesy delight.” Thankfully not all of them are in the South. In fact, one of the 38 versions can be found at the Freight House Kitchen in Bernalillo: “These days it’s common to see mac and cheese in many forms: on a burger, in a sandwich, topped with barbecue. So it’s rather exciting to see a version that’s a true, unique surprise. Cue: Freight House’s Mac ‘n Cheese Relleno. That’s right: macaroni and cheese inside a chile relleno. Petite ditalini pasta tubes are blended in a creamy mix of Gruyère and white Cheddar with chopped green chile. It’s all stuffed inside a poblano pepper, which is battered and fried. The carb- and cheese-filled pepper is plated above a drizzle of vinegar- and hot sauce-infused sweet-and-spicy sauce, and served with a healthy side of roasted squash, corn and beans.”
Have you ever tried to substitute Cayenne pepper for Chimayo chile on an enchiladas recipe? Or used Thai bird peppers to make salsa? If you have, the realization probably set in quickly that there is NO substitute for New Mexico’s sacrosanct chile. If you’d like to know why, listen to the Burnt Toast podcast “Spice Is Nice” where Mark Miller, the “godfather of Southwestern cuisine” and founder of Santa Fe’s Coyote Café explains why. In essence, chile is a fruit with distinct flavonoids in its flavor profile. Other types of chiles are much too bitter and don’t have the characteristic sweetness of New Mexico’s chile. Also featured on the podcast is food historian Dave DeWitt who’s known as “the pope of peppers” who explains how the chile was proliferated. It’s an excellent 28-minute listen. (Thank you, Alonna Smith)
Clint Eastwood, perhaps second only to Chuck Norris as a paragon of masculinity, declared “Nobody, I mean nobody, puts ketchup on a hot dog.” You could argue with him, but he’d probably beat you up. Okay, his comment is anecdotal, but empirical evidence exists in Albuquerque that confirms Eastwood’s contention. Just study the Urban Hot Dog Company‘s menu and you won’t find ketchup anywhere. Maybe that’s why Urban Hot Dog Company was singled out by Reader’s Digest as the best hot dog in New Mexico. Here’s what the Reader’s Digest had to say: “The menu at Urban Hotdog Company is so stacked with delicious dogs, we don’t even know where to start. Two customer favorites are the Fully Loaded (a beef frank wrapped in sliced potato, deep-fried, and garnished with classic baked potato toppings) or the Caprese (a bratwurst boasting tomatoes, basil, and a balsamic glaze). On the side, ask for Dog Bites, pieces of hot dog coated in bread crumbs and fried.”
I’ve always contended that readers of Gil’s Thrilling… are the most discerning and intelligent consumers and contributors of restaurant related information anywhere. So, when economist turned playwright turned marketing executive cum entrepreneur Tom Molitor asked me what the premises of “Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food” was, I had to listen. Even though he had astutely surmised the purpose of this monthly post, he wasn’t sure all readers got it. In his mind, the purpose of the post represents: “Every state has pride in its regional cuisine, much in the same manner of pride in its sports teams. And New Mexico does (or should!), too. We’re not only on the bucket list of national food writers, we’re on the bucket list of international food writers.” Tom recommended I rename this feature to better reflect its premises. That’s what “Red or Green–New Mexico’s Food Scene Is On Fire” is all about–a celebration of New Mexico’s restaurants and cuisine in national and international media. Take pride, New Mexico! Our cuisine is turning heads. (Thank you, Tom Molitor and Becky Mercuri for your very valued suggestions) By the way, I’m certainly not married to the title of this feature and will gratefully consider any and all suggestions. Let me know what you think.
At 6’2″ Jethro Bodine graduated highest in his sixth grade class by at least a foot. So, when a math teacher posited the theory of π2 (pi r squared), Jethro wasn’t fooled: “Uncle Jed, them teachers is tryin’ to tell us that pie are square. Shoot, everybody knows that pie are round, cornbread are square.” In celebration of World Pi Day, Kitchn published the most popular pie recipes in every state, at least according to a Google special trend analyses showing uniquely most-searched pies in each state over the seven day period preceding Pi Day. The most searched for pie in New Mexico was pecan pie, a choice which has much more credibility than another Google search analysis claiming that before the Super Bowl, New Mexicans were obsessed with pea and peppercorn mash. (Thank you, Alonna Smith)
Sadly, the first thing that comes to mind when someone invites me to a buffet is a paragraph from E. B. White’s 1952 classic Charlotte Web. In that paragraph, an old sheep describes the county fair to Templeton, the lovingly irascible rat: “A fair is a rat’s paradise. Everybody spills food at a fair. A rat can creep out late at night and have a feast.” In truth, high quality buffets do exist and are often a great way to introduce casual diners to a more exotic cuisine. MSN’s list of the best all-you-can-eat restaurants in every state is a belly-busting parade of delicious spots that don’t sacrifice quality in favor of quantity. MSN named Mimmo’s Ristorante & Pizzeria in Albuquerque as New Mexico’s best buffet, celebrating such palate-pleasing dishes as “oozing cheese filled ravioli and spaghetti with marinara sauce plus a range of pizzas and a fresh salad bar.” You can invite me to Mimmo’s buffet any time!
In her memoir Kathleen Flinn, author of Burnt Toast makes You Sing Good, noted “I don’t have to tell you I love you. I fed you pancakes.” Is there any more heartfelt expression of love than pancakes? Is there anything that says “weekend” better than pancakes? Mothers, spouses, partners and friends across the fruited plain express their love with pancakes, especially on weekends. In a feature entitled “50 States of Pancakes,” the Food Network published a list of the best pancakes in every state. According to the Food Network, the best pancakes in the Land of Enchantment come from Albuquerque’s Vick’s Vittles. The Foot Network was lavish in its praise for one pancake in particular: “The crown jewel of the breakfast menu is easily the Santa Fe Pancakes, a dish that takes its cues directly from the Native American and Mexican culinary traditions that have largely shaped the region’s modern foodscape. These deep indigo cakes feature a blue-corn buttermilk batter that’s loaded up with roasted pinons, Hatch green chiles and cheddar-Jack cheese.”
Many of us who grew up in Northern New Mexico can relate to comedian Felipe Esparza’s observation that “My mom cooked the same food every day – tortillas, beans and meat. If it was enchiladas, it was – tortillas, beans and meat. If it was burritos, it was still – tortillas, beans and meat.” Enchiladas and burritos have become so mainstream that you can find them everywhere under the spacious skies. MSN partnered with Yelp to identify the restaurants preparing the best burrito in every state, though traditionalists might take offense at MSN’s contention that “anything can be a burrito as long as it’s wrapped in a tortilla (or in some cases, a type of seaweed).” New Mexico’s best burrito isn’t stuffed with sushi, fruit or any other non-traditional ingredients. Santa Fe’s Palacio Cafe serves up a mean smothered burrito which “comes in three varieties: chicken and bean, beef and bean and chicharron and bean.” Sounds pretty good to me!
Author Fran Lebowitz is unabashed about her carnivorous proclivities: “My favorite animal is steak.” That sentiment is echoed lustily across the fruited plain which the Food Network scoured to find the best steak in every state. In a feature entitled “50 States of Steakhouses,” the Food Network celebrated the “best places to sate your carnivore cravings and enjoy a side of local flair.” Across the Land of Enchantment, no steakhouse does it better than Santa Fe’s Rio Chama which was heralded by “locals and tourists alike for the best prime rib, burgers and fondue in town.” MSN reserved its most lavish praise for the signature prime rib which “is practically a work of art on its own, a beef rib-eye roast that’s brined with herbs and spices for 48 hours, grilled whole over an open flame and then slow-roasted to juicy perfection.”
Whether you celebrate Easter in a sacred or secular manner, it’s a day denizens of the fruited plain seem to celebrate with food. Redbook believes “Easter and brunch go hand in hand, although you could cook up your own at home, why not leave the fresh, spring dishes up to someone else and go out to eat?” To that end, Redbook collaborated with Yelp to identify the Best Easter Brunch in Every State. Yelpers decreed the best Easter brunch in New Mexico comes from The Grove Cafe & Market in Albuquerque. Redbook noted “The Grove is known for supporting local farmers and offering sustainable, healthy, and delicious food.”
Never mind wealth, power and prestige! In his terrific tome The Beautiful and Damned, author F. Scott Fitzgerald declared “A man’s social rank is determined by the amount of bread he eats in a sandwich.” In contemporary society, we recognize that the best sandwiches are a balance of bread, condiments and ingredients. MSN invited readers to “try these famous sandwiches in every state.” The one sandwich not to be missed in the Land of Enchantment is the Albuquerque Turkey (does anyone else hate that name) from Albuquerque’s Relish. MSN cited its “delicious local flavor” in that this sandwich features “honey roast turkey, havarti, tomatoes, chipotle mayo and the iconic New Mexico green chile all on toasted sourdough.”
Eli Brown, author of Cinnamon and Gunpowder (a great novel about a chef kidnapped by pirates and kept alive as long as he can conjure an exquisite meal every Sunday from the ship’s meager supplies) may have penned the most beautiful quote ever about comfort food: “Some foods are so comforting, so nourishing of body and soul, that to eat them is to be home again after a long journey.” MSN’s Lifestyle authors probably didn’t read Brown’s novel, but they did scour the fruited plain for the best spot for comfort food in every state. To the surprise of absolutely no one who’s traversed Route 66, the Land of Enchantment’s best spot for comfort food is Frontier Restaurant in Albuquerque. MSN explains “There’s plenty of room to spread out at the Frontier which seats 300 and still manages to attract a line. That may be because the food at the 40-year staple near the University of New Mexico, including regional fare and comfort food classics, is that good.”
As you’ve probably discerned if you’ve read this far, MSN’s Lifestyle columnists were certainly busy in the month of April, compiling “best this” and “best that” features that celebrate so many of the foods prepared exceptionally well in the Land of Enchantment. Don’t ever let anyone tell you New Mexico’s restaurants don’t prepare outstanding pasta dishes. MSN’s best pasta dish in every state feature recognized just one of our prolific pasta purveyors, Osteria D’Assisi in Santa Fe. “This simple, no-frills osteria looks like it’s been imported directly from Italy,” MSN notes, adding that “A good lasagna is not hard to love, and you’ll definitely fall in love with theirs, made with house-made pasta, meat ragout, marinara sauce, bechamel and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Comedian Rodney Dangerfield joked “I’m at the age where food has taken the place of sex in my life. In fact, I’ve just had a mirror put over my kitchen table.” Rodney probably loved buffets (maybe why he didn’t get any respect). MSN certainly does, seeking out the most indulgent buffets in every state, declaring the best in New Mexico to come from Buffet 66 Fresh Market at the Route 66 Casino and Hotel west of Albuquerque: “if you’re cruising on the Mother Road, you’re in for an all-you-can-eat treat” with “American classics like barbecue, pasta and other Italian fare, a Mongolian grill, Latin eats and more.”
It’s not only moms who have long touted breakfast as the most important meal of the day. Scientists who’ve studied the relationship between eating breakfast and health also declare breakfast to be essential to health and even weight loss. MSN probably didn’t have health or weight loss in mind when scouring the spacious skies to find the best breakfast dish in every state. To absolutely no one’s surprise, the Land of Enchantment’s very best breakfast dish is the ubiquitous and beloved breakfast burrito. MSN proclaimed the state’s best to come from The Pantry in Santa Fe. “Loaded with eggs, potatoes and cheese before being topped with cheese and broiled, it’s finished with a hefty dose of that famous chile.” What’s not to love?
For years, Gil’s Thrilling… has been touting restaurants from small towns across the Land of Enchantment, heretically declaring that Albuquerque and Santa Fe do not have exclusivity to great eateries. MSN uncovered a gem your friendly neighborhood food blogger didn’t even have on my radar. In its feature celebrating the best Asian restaurant in every state, MSN asserts that Tasty Kitchen Chinese Restaurant in Grants is the very best in New Mexico. “The fact that the best Chinese restaurant in this small city in New Mexico says a lot about the quality of cuisine served here.” It sounds like a road trip is in order.
When more than one source declares a restaurant’s product is the very best in the state, diners should pay attention. In 2018, Money Magazine partnered with yelp to find the best pizza in every state. Money Magazine’s choice for best pizza in New Mexico was Straight Up Pizza in Albuquerque. Not quite a year later, MSN also named Straight Up Pizza as the best in the Land of Enchantment. In its absolute best pizza in every state feature MSN noted “this little shop in New Mexico’s largest city is busting with spot-on slices and calzones fit to feed a tiny village. Diners go nuts for the pull-apart dough and toppings so abundant they overflow past the crust’s thick edge.”
When will Iron Chef Bobby Flay learn that when he challenges New Mexico’s chefs, he gets beaten like the proverbial red-headed stepchild? In 2009, the braggadocious Food Network personality challenged the Buckhorn Tavern‘s Bobby Olguin to a green chile cheeseburger throwdown and promptly got his spatula handed to him. Ten years later, Flay faced off against Chef Fernando Ruiz in a chile rellenos en nogada competition and was humbled by the executive chef at The Lodge and Ranch at Chama Land & Cattle Company. Though he doesn’t have nearly as many appearances on the Food Network as does Flay, Chef Ruiz is no stranger to the network’s entertaining competitions. In 2016, he trounced three other chefs to win the network’s Chopped competition.
Every year AAA publishes an exclusive list of four- and five-diamond restaurants across the fruited plain. From among some 32,000 AAA inspected and approved restaurants, only 656 (0.2 percent) earned the prestigious four-diamond honor. Honorees included three of Santa Fe’s most acclaimed restaurants: Geronimo, Terra at Rancho Encantado and Sazón. For Geronimo, the four-diamond distinction has become almost an annual event, one celebrated now for fifteen consecutive years. Terra isn’t far behind, having earned four-diamond honors eleven years in a row. Sazon, a relative newcomer helmed by the incomparable Chef Fernando Olea, has been on the list three consecutive years. No New Mexico restaurants made the Five Diamond list.
You might think because he’s such an easy mark for New Mexico’s chefs, Bobby Flay would be the favorite celebrity chef for denizens of the Land of Enchantment. US Direct, a Direct TV site, used Google Trends to compile a list of the top celebrity chef in each state. New Mexico’s favorite chef was Anthony Bourdain, a raconteur extraordinaire who wasn’t active as a chef for years, but regaled viewers with an acerbic tongue and adventurous palate. Bourdain was named favorite celebrity chef in ten states, a full twenty percent of all states. Flay garnered favorite celebrity chef honors only in Nevada and even at that, it was an honor shared with several other chefs.
President Abraham Lincoln may have inadvertently prompted the bucket list trend with his sage aphorism: “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” In making the most of our limited number of years, some of us compile bucket lists of experiences we’d like to have. MSN put together a list of “bucket list barbecue in every state.” Your friendly neighborhood blogger recently crossed off his barbecue bucket list for New Mexico by visiting Mad Jack’s Mountaintop Barbecue. Now it’s your turn. MSN asked “What could make barbecue uniquely New Mexican?” and answered “Adding Hatch green chiles of course. The finely chopped Central Texas-style brisket at Mad Jack’s Mountaintop Barbecue is topped with green chiles on its Chile the Kid sandwich bringing together Texas and New Mexico traditions.”
One of the things that makes the fruited plain so special is its culinary diversity, forged by ethnic influences and regional variations. 10Best chose an iconic dish from each state, then asked a panel of local food experts to nominate their favorite restaurants serving the dish. Predictably, the Land of Enchantment’s “most iconic” dish was deemed to be green chile and the restaurant which prepares it best is El Patron in Las Cruces. 10Best noted “The Hatch green chile coming out of the kitchen at El Patron Cafe in Las Cruces is certainly spicy, but not overpowering. The brisket nachos are a house specialty, smothered in green. Diners also find green chile in the house-made posole, atop chicken enchiladas and even for dessert in the form of a green chile pineapple upside-down cake.”
Albuquerque is the Jan Brady to Santa Fe’s “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia,” at least according to Thrillist which in its yearly compilation of the best food city in every US state apologetically picks Santa Fe over Albuquerque. “It pains us physically, in our hearts and souls, not to choose Albuquerque for this honor,” Thrillist demured. In its next breath Thrillist conceded “Santa Fe has just too much good stuff to be ignored, and a lot of it has to do with the almighty green chile. So it bears mentioning the uber-local green chile cheeseburger at the most charming Atrisco Cafe & Bar, the green chile enchiladas at Horseman’s Haven, spicy green chile cheddar fries at Cowgirl BBQ, on some of the best all-around Mexican dishes in America at La Choza. If Southwestern food isn’t your thing, you’re wrong, but there’s still standout American cuisine at Restaurant Martin and Joseph’s, jerk chicken and goat stew like you wouldn’t believe at Afro-Caribbean go-to Jambo Cafe, and a restaurant with food so fresh, nourishing, and delicious that senior staff writer Lee Breslouer once visited three times in 48 hours: Sweetwater.”
“Give us this day our Daily Meal.” That’s the supplement of loyal readers of The Daily Meal, a website covering food and drink topics through articles, videos, and special reports. In its search for the best Chinese restaurant in every state, the Daily Meal staff had some 41,000 candidates (that’s the number of Chinese restaurants across the fruited plain) to consider. Whittling down that list was a formidable task in which every style of Chinese food was taken into consideration. The Land of Enchantment’s best Chinese restaurant was deemed to be Albuquerque’s Pop-Up Dumpling House located inside New Mexico’s largest international grocer, Talin Market. It’s easy to see why it made list: “Dumplings are made by hand to order (pork, USDA Choice rib-eye, lamb, shrimp, wild coho salmon, and vegetarian dumplings are available); beef noodle soup starts with broth that’s been simmering for more than 12 hours; steamed buns are filled with slow-simmered pork belly and shredded Peking duck; and spicy pickled cucumbers and steamed eggplant make for perfect sides.” (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)
The polling firm Gallup recently released its annual “Well-Being Index,” a survey of around 115,000 people, which determined where the healthiest people in the country reside. If you’re expecting New Mexico to have competed with Mississippi and Arkansas for the ignominious distinction of being at the very bottom of the index, you’ll be in for a surprise. New Mexico wasn’t even in the bottom ten. Only in one category did New Mexico fall near the bottom. Surprisingly that category was “Community”–liking where you live, feeling safe and having pride in your community. New Mexico ranked forth in this category. Hawaii topped the fruited plain for wellness for the seventh year in a row. (Thank you Alonna Smith)
In his terrific tome Kitchen Confidential, fellow sybarite Anthony Bourdain blew the lid off brunch, explaining that “brunch menus are an open invitation to the cost-conscious chef, a dumping ground for the odd bits left over from Friday and Saturday nights” adding that “you can dress brunch up with all the focaccia, smoked salmon, and caviar in the world, but it’s still breakfast.” His opinion didn’t sway many of us who love brunch. MSN’s list of the best brunch spot in every state shows some of the reasons why. According to MSN, New Mexico’s best brunch comes from 2G’s Bistro in Albuquerque: “The quaint town of Albuquerque is home to New Mexico’s best brunch spot, 2G’s Bistro. This old-fashioned restaurant with its clay-like walls, fits in well with the numerous historic adobe structures amid the city and its menu embodies the Spanish culture that lives within it. Try the huevos rancheros or the Southwest Benedict to get a taste of such Spanish/western flair.” Quaint? At least MSN didn’t use the trite “Quirky” adjective.
10Best asked an Atlanta based food and travel writer to compile a list of 10 of the most interesting chile dishes in Albuquerque and the resultant list was…interesting. Among the chile dishes honored were two of BOTVOLR’s favorite chile dishes: red chile ribs from El Pinto and hot dogs with chile cheese from The Dog House. Also on the list were the creamy green chile chicken soup from Cocina Azul, chile Caribe from Sharky’s Fish and Shrimp, green chile stew from Golden Pride and potato gnocchi in green chile sauce from Campo at Los Poblanos. Maybe someday BOTVOLR will be asked to compile a list of the 10 most interesting grits dishes in Atlanta. (Thank you, Alonna Smith)
Gastro Obscura, a global community of explorers, who have together created a comprehensive database of the world’s most wondrous places and foods, tends to focus on obscure, rare and spellbinding content you won’t find anywhere else. Most of the culinary world knows about Hatch chile, but only savvy New Mexicans know that Sparky’s Burgers, Barbecue & Espresso in Hatch uses chile in very inventive and delicious ways. Gastro Obscura gives us yet another reason to visit Sparky’s–green chile lemonade. “Tasters say the first sip tastes a lot like any other tangy, cool lemonade. However, the sizable chunks of green chile floating in between ice cubes give away the drink’s surprise finish. As sugar and citric acid fade from the palate, a familiar warmth floods the mouth.”
Gastro Obscura doesn’t shy away from controversy either, declaring New Mexico’s best chile peppers don’t come from Hatch, but from rural Chimayo. One grower revealed that “customers are willing to pay a hefty $45 per pound for the richly aromatic, respectably hot chile powder, made from ground, sun-dried chimayó peppers, just one of about two dozen or so “native” or “New Mexican landrace” chile peppers endemic to northern New Mexico. That’s roughly six times the cost of your average, mass-produced New Mexican red chile powder. The reason, say locals, has a lot to do with that same, sacred dirt in the neighboring church.”
If it’s on the internet, it’s got to be true, especially if it comes from Google, that infallible source of all knowledge and peerless pilferer of privacy. Yeah, right! Google compiled a list of the most popular Super Bowl snacks in every state and its results for the Land of Enchantment are baffling….even to Google geniuses who pondered: “New Mexico will both serve and have to explain to us what “pea and peppercorn mash” is.” Perhaps the search for the snack strangeness no one has ever heard of was conducted by an extraterrestrial visitor to Roswell.
The absurdity of New Mexicans scouring the internet for pea and peppercorn mash makes it more plausible that the most popular Trader Joe’s item in New Mexico is kung pao chicken. That’s what Food52, “a buzzing place for others who do what we do all day long: talk about food” contends. It certainly makes more sense than New Mexicans going to Trader Joe’s for enchiladas or burritos. The most popular item in thirteen states (not necessarily the original colonies) is sweet chili sauce. Only Delawareans appreciate the fine qualities of Trader Joe’s kung pao chicken as much as New Mexicans do. (Thank you, Alonna Smith)
“New Mexico is officially the “Land of Enchantment” and unofficially the “Land of the Best Chiles You’ll Ever Have.” But Albuquerque also offers plenty of other inexpensive, eclectic food options, including international fare and sweet temptations.” The Food Network’s list of the best cheap eats in Albuquerque includes such bargain stalwarts as Rebel Donut, Nexus Brewery & Restaurant, Frontier Restaurant, Tia B’s La Waffleria and Mary & Tito’s. Sure, they might be exemplary cheap eats, but none of them offer the elusive, evasive pea and peppercorn mash. (Thank you, Alonna Smith)
Sometimes carnivorous cravings can be sated only by a thick slab of juicy prime beef steak grilled to medium-rare perfection at 135 degrees. In its feature 50 States of Steakhouses, the Food Network proclaimed Santa Fe’s heralded Rio Chama> as the very best in New Mexico. According to the Food Network: “The signature prime rib is practically a work of art on its own, a beef rib-eye roast that’s brined with herbs and spices for 48 hours, grilled whole over an open flame and then slow-roasted to juicy perfection.” That certainly sounds better than pea and peppercorn mash.
Mobile food kitchens (that’s food truck to you, Bob) have become as ubiquitous across the fruited plain as Subarus in Santa Fe. While the Land of Enchantment may have been a little late to the party, our food trucks have quickly gained ground with impressive culinary fare you don’t find at many brick-and-mortar establishments. It’s therefore no surprise to see one of our food trucks being named by The Food Network as one of the 25 best food trucks in America. That paragon of pedestrian-pleasing cuisine is Santa Fe’s Bang Bite Filling Station. The Food Network raved about the signature Bite Burger “which raises the stakes on the beloved green chile cheeseburger, with jalapenos, Serranos, Poblanos and chipotles blended right into the meat.”
The Daily Meal points out that “We’re thankfully living in an era when high-quality Mexican fare is within driving distance of just about everyone in America.” To prove their point, the site compiled a list of the best Mexican restaurant in every state. New Mexico’s best was deemed to be Albuquerque’s El Modelo. Here’s why: “Back in 1929, Carmen Garcia began using one of the three rooms of her house as a tortilla factory; she would wake up and make them herself starting at 2 a.m. so that she could sell them for breakfast. She added tamales, then expanded the business with her son in 1945, helping to turn it into the New Mexico institution it is today. Now owned by Virginia Chittim, El Modelo still makes rave-worthy tortillas and tamales, along with enchiladas, burritos, tostadas, and sopapillas — many of these featuring New Mexico’s signature red and green chiles.” (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)
Rise and Shine! If you’re not a morning person, few salutations are as annoying. For the morning grouches among us, the day gets off on a better foot if we enjoy a good breakfast. To help us get started, Delish put together a list of the best breakfast spots in every state. New Mexico’s best breakfast comes from the Flying Star in Albuquerque. A contributor to Foursquare (from which the list was compiled) noted: “Great place for authentic NM food. I especially love the breakfast and to this I am looking for a similar amazing breakfast Burrito or Huveros Rancheros. Be careful the portions are very large!” Hmm, I’ve never heard of these “huveros.” They might be one of those rare delicacies like pea and peppercorn mash.
Delish consulted Foursquare on a feature naming the best diner in every state across the country. The surprising choice for the best in the Land of Enchantment was The Shed. No, not the James Beard award-winning The Shed in Santa Fe, but the lesser-known (at least to Norteños) The Shed in Las Cruces. A Foursquare reader raves: “Eggs Benedict with green chile hollandaise is seriously amazing. One of the best breakfast restaurants you can possibly eat at anywhere.”
On the day preceding some ballyhooed professional football game, Santa Fe’s Food Depot hosted its 25th annual Souper Bowl, its beloved fundraising effort which lets guests sample unlimited mouth-watering soups from 25 of their favorite local chefs as they compete for best soup in four categories—Cream, Savory, Seafood, and Vegetarian—plus the coveted “Best Soup” category. 2019’s winners were:
- Best Overall Soup — Nath’s Inspired Khmer Cuisine, Chicken Red Curry
- Best Savory Soup — Nath’s Inspired Khmer Cuisine, Chicken Red Curry
- Best Cream Soup — El Castillo Life Plan Community, Caribbean Martini
- Best Seafood Soup — Kingston Residence of Santa Fe, Thai Coconut Seafood Soup
- Best Vegetarian — Social Kitchen + Bar, Corn Chowder
Conspicuous by its absence was a pea and peppercorn mash soup. Maybe next year…and yes, I’ve beaten that dead horse enough.
The Food Network’s television cameras just love Chef Marie Yniguez, the affable owner and face of Bocadillos, a slow-roasted sandwich shop in Albuquerque. Marie has graced Food Network programming on three different shows. Most recently, she and her equally personable daughter Ryan Duran competed on the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives Family Tournament, a three-round elimination tournament for $30,000. Marie and Ryan Duran surmounted a series of cooking challenges, ultimately making it to the semi-finals. In a surf and turf competition, Marie and Ryan wowed the judges with a perfectly prepared filet and fried shrimp combination, but their ghee beurre blanc wasn’t as highly esteemed. Throughout the competition, Marie and Ryan represented the 505 with style and grace, making all of us very proud.
Five star ratings are almost as rare as the Detroit Lions winning the Superbowl especially in Yelp where hard-grading raters tend to be brutally honest in their assessments. In accomplishing this rare feat, Spicy Bite, a family-owned Indian restaurant in Milan became the very first restaurant in the Land of Enchantment to make Yelp’s “Top 100 Places to Eat in 2019” since Yelp began publishing the list in 2014. Spicy Bite was ranked number 84 among “eateries from across the US that rank so highly in the Yelp community’s opinion” that they earned the status of “must try this year.” Rankings were determined using an algorithm that considers the volume of reviews and their ratings.
Was it Confucius who posited “Life is full of questions. Cupcakes are the answer.” Or was it Cathy Guisewite, creator of the popular Cathy comic strip. Whoever it was is one smart cookie…er, make that cupcake. Despite constantly being under attack by aspirants toward a more healthy lifestyle, cupcakes remain one of the most popular desserts across the fruited plain. In 2012, nearly 700,000 cupcakes were consumed under the spacious skies. What’s not to love? “They’re fluffy, frosted, and beautiful in all shapes and sizes.” So says The Daily Meal which compiled a list of the 101 Best Cupcakes in America. Albuquerque’s Q’s Cakes and Sweets Boutique made the list, deservedly so. Here’s what Daily Meal had to say, “Queneesha “Q” Meyers’ love for baking hatched after recreating a chocolate chip cookie recipe she found on a bag of flour when she was just 11 years old. Now, the pastry chef and U.S. Air Force veteran pours her heart and soul into every custom-made dessert made within the confines of her Albuquerque shop. There are tons of flavors on the menu, but make sure you try the red velvet! Thank you Becky Mercuri for sharing this great news.
Ever since the 2007 comedy The Bucket List, thousands of people have actually formalized their own lists of things to do and see before they kick the bucket. Among them is MSN Lifestyle which published The Bucket List Restaurant in Your State. Now, to make it onto a bucket list, a restaurant has got to be more than good. It’s got to be life-altering. MSN’s bucket list choice for the Land of Enchantment is Santa Fe’s legendary Geronimo, arguably the very best restaurant in New Mexico. MSN described it thusly: It’s hard to do any better than the ambiance at Geronimo, housed in an adobe house that was built in the 1750s, complete with kiva fireplaces and wooden beams. But reviewers say there’s so much more to dining here than its surroundings, and the restaurant’s globally-inspired menu, awarded with four-stars from Forbes and four diamonds from AAA, bears that out.”
Where would you eat if you were one of the wealthiest people on Earth and could eat anywhere and anything you wanted? Four star, five diamond restaurants? Fine dining emporiums? Gourmet dishes? When he wanted to relax and unwind, Paul Allen, who along with Bill Gates founded Microsoft in Albuquerque back in 1975, used to return to the Land of Enchantment. His first stop was Duran’s Central Pharmacy in the Duke City. Duran’s elicited feelings of nostalgia, reminding him of Microsoft’s formative days. According to Forbes, “his go-to order was the Hatch green chili enchilada, a tamale with red chili sauce, a flour tortilla on the side.” Those tortillas are legendary orbs charred pinto pony colors and slathered with butter. Come to think of it, Duran’s is a perfect place to relax and get away from it all…and you don’t have to be a billionaire to enjoy it.
New Mexico’s Autumn air is perfumed with hazy smoke plumes wafting upward from giant rotating drums. There’s no doubt the alluring aroma of green chile being roasted in those drums is the defining scent of our enchanted fall season. Food Network celebrity chef Katie Lee contends “If summer had one defining scent, it’d definitely be the smell of barbecue.” Who can argue? If there’s one argument sure to evoke dissenting opinions, it’s the Food Network’s list of the best barbecue restaurants in the country. Not that long ago, there wasn’t a single barbecue joint in New Mexico worthy of consideration. Today there are dozens. Food Network included only one–Santa Fe’s Whole Hog. Here’s what the Food Network had to say: “Ask in-the-know locals where to find good ’cue and they’re likely to mention Whole Hog — no surprise, since this joint has been serving New Mexicans award-winning Memphis-style eats since 2006.”
Most pantheons on which America’s best food cities are singled out tend to include the same usual suspects: New York City, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Charleston, San Francisco and a few other anointed paragons of dining excellence. Every once in a while Santa Fe makes a “best of” list or two in a sort of Miss Congeniality spot. Typically, Albuquerque is viewed by the culinary cognoscenti as one of those “up and coming” and “evolving” culinary destinations so it was a very pleasant surprise to see Time rate the Duke City as one of America’s best food cities. Even more surprising–Albuquerque was rated number six. Time noted: “The patron saint of this Southwestern city’s food scene has long been the fire-roasted green chili, which pops up on the local fry-bread tacos and cheeseburgers (like the classics at Monte Carlo Steakhouse and Liquor Store), or can be made into a sauce at your table at legendary spots like El Pinto.”
Saturday Night Live alum Bill Hader expressed his disdain for lists: “Top ten lists make me insane. I just know they’re going to change daily.” Still, human beings are persistent list-makers. We’re apparently genetically predisposed to do so. Lists, particularly “best of” and “top this and top that” lists are good fodder for water cooler discussions. Take Money, Inc’s list of the 10 best restaurants in Albuquerque. Who could argue with some of the choices: Frontier, Antiquity Restaurant (one of these days, Bob), Monroe’s, Cocina Azul, Seared, El Patio, The Grill, Farm & Table and Two Fools Tavern. On the other hand, the list also included Pappadeux Seafood Kitchen, a national chain. Don’t settle it at the water cooler. Visit these restaurant gems and decide for yourself.
Scintillating four time James Beard award-winning author Cheryl Jamison kicked off Eater’s guide to the Southwest with a Cheat Sheet to Southwestern Food in which she introduces “the chile-obsessed foodways of America’s sunbelt.” She explains that “Southwestern cuisine has a number of key signifiers that separate it from the queso-smothered foods of the Lone Star State. She then lists “a few ways to mark the venerable, deceptively complex foods of America’s Southwest” which includes Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada. Chief among them, of course, is chile–from “long green chiles, and their more mature, mellow counterpart, red chiles.” Cheryl also provides a terrific list of where to enjoy traditional (classic) and modern Southwestern food.
“Sorry, New Mexico: Pueblo peppers and their incarnations beat all of your chiles.” These heretical words come from Gustavo Arellano, features writer at the Los Angeles Times and author of Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered Americas. He arrived at that apostasy while taking a “palate-scorching Mexican hamburger- and adovada-fueled road trip up I-25 from Las Cruces” for Eater. In a feature entitled The Great American Chile Highway, Arellano sampled endorphin rush-generating cuisine at 21 eateries in the Land of Enchantment and another 18 in Colorado, eating chile 38 different ways. Though, he explained “Hispanos settled southern Colorado in the 1850s, and many manitos (the nickname their descendants go by) feel greater kinship with northern New Mexico than they do with Colorado,” their “food is as removed from New Mexican food as New Mexican is from Mexican.”
Eater’s guide to the Southwest would not be complete without a tribute to the Wondrous Bread of The Pueblo Nations. There are “19 different Pueblo nations in New Mexico, each with its own particular version of bread molded by generations-old family techniques, ingredients, and the flair of individual bakers.” Writer Andi Murphy visited different bakers across the Pueblo Nations to see for herself “how varied the tradition of Pueblo bread-making could be — and why, after hundreds of years, the Pueblo people continue putting in the hard work to make it.” She encapsulates her findings in a very compelling read that may just prompt you to start up your car and head to the nearest Pueblo for bread as good as it can possibly be baked.
Famadillo, an online site purporting to “cover what a parent wants to know” visited Santa Fe and “learned it can be quite a culinary paradise.” Its compilation of the Top Eleven Restaurants in Santa Fe included high-end and fine-dining gems such as Geronimo and Radish and Rye, but mostly it listed affordable family favorites such as The Pantry, Cowgirl BBQ, Plaza Cafe and Tune-Up. Parents and their children alike will certainly enjoy these terrific choices.
Every year on Saturday of the week preceding some ballyhooed professional football game, the Roadrunner Food Bank hosts its largest fund-raising event, the Souper Bowl. More than 1,000 guests visited the sprawling warehouse to enjoy scrumptious soups and delectable desserts from nearly 40 Albuquerque area restaurants. Awards for the best soups and desserts were given in two categories: Critic’s Choice and People’s Choice.
People Choice Winners – Desserts
1st Place: Nothing Bundt Cakes
2nd Place: Theobroma Chocolatier
3rd Place: Special Touch Catering
Best Booth Award: Poki Poblanos Fusion Lounge
The Critic’s Choice Awards were chosen by a panel of six judges who rated each soup based on appearance, aroma, texture, spice blend, flavor and overall impression in a blind sample.
Critic’s Choice Award Winners
1st Place: The Crown Room
2nd Place: Sage Dining Services
3rd Place: Ohana Hut