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