Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food: March, 2019

Chicken Wings from Bonchon

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.

Bruce “Sr Plata” With a Balanced Meal–Salad on one Hand, Chicken Fried Steak from The Range on the Other

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.”

The Joe from Duke City Kitchen

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.”

Leg and Thigh with Onion Rings from Firebird Nashville Hot Chicken

“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)

Chicken Thighs, Chicken Chimichanga and Fries from Pollito Con Papas

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)

Baba Ghanoush and Pita from Sheba Grocery & Cafe

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.”

February, 2019

English Muffin, Butter and Strawberry Jam from The Farmacy in Albuquerque

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)

Firecracker Dumplings from Fan Tang in Albuquerque

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.

Spicy Chicken from Mandarin Chinese in Albuquerque

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)

Chips and Salsa with Agua Fresca from El Cotorro

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.”

Vegetarian Platter from Mazaya in Albuquerque

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.

January, 2019

Philly Cheese Steak from Philly Steaks in Albuquerque

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. 

Desserts at the Roadrunner Food Bank’s Souper Bowl 2019: It’s Not Just Superb Soup

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.” 

Chicken Fried Steak Breakfast from Mac’s La Sierra

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.” 

Chopped Caprese from Gigi Italian Bistro

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.

Special Vietnamese Sandwich from Pho Kobe

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.” 

Gobble This, a Fabulous New Restaurant in Old Town

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. 

The fun, artsy ambiance at The Kosmos

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’s Choice Winners – Soup
1st Place and Souper Bowl ChampionSlate Street Billiards
2nd Place: El Bruno’s Restaurant
3rd Place: Ohana Hut

People Choice Winners – Vegetarian Soup
1st Place: Artichoke Cafe
2nd Place: Pho 505
3rd Place: Ohana Hut

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

About Gil Garduno

Since 2008, the tagline on Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog has invited you to “Follow the Culinary Ruminations of New Mexico’s Sesquipedalian Sybarite.” To date, nearly 1 million visitors have trusted (or at least visited) my recommendations on nearly 1,100 restaurant reviews. Please take a few minutes to tell me what you think. Whether you agree or disagree with me, I'd love to hear about it.

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27 Comments on “Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food: March, 2019”

  1. I am not really a huge (or even medium) follower of Bobby Flay but it is impossible to miss him completely. I have noted that he almost always loses regardless of whether the state in which he is competing is New Mexico. Years ago in 2002 he had a Spanish (sort of) restaurant in NYC that I actually liked but the landlord decided to make major renovations to the building & booted everyone. Mesa Grill is ok but not great.

  2. 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.

    Why just last month, I clicked on an article with the heading, “Top 10 Must Try American Foods” written by an Australian food writer on an Australian website.

    Number one was Apple Pie. Not surprising since “American as apple pie” is a cultural expression that’s been around as long as our The Constitution. Maybe longer.

    But what was shockingly surprising is what the Australian writer said next under the heading, “For a particular excellent example, try the apple pie with added green chiles at Pie-O-Neer, in Pie Town, New Mexico.”

    Yes, people, yes NEW MEXICANS. Apple pie is baked in every state in every county in every town across our 320-million populated fruited plain and the only pie mentioned by an international food writer is in Pie Town, New Mexico.

    Why, it made me so prideful that I was willing to pardon the writer after he used the spelling “chilies.” You should, too.

    1. Yo Matey! As I’ve mentioned several times, I Love Coincidences and thusly… per your referencing Australia…I am not sure why you didn’t mention Mickey D’s just now introducing the McPickle Burger!!!! I.e. http://tinyurl.com/yyprttr7
      Ya know, ya really got to be dancing as fast as ya can in this fast paced world of Cuisinee albeit this just came out this VERY day!!!!
      Elsewise, and unless we have a Sports Reader herein: Does anyone know if Bob Kraft has taken time out from his legal troubles to Comment RE Tom Brady’s Retirement Announcement ????

        1. LOL…Sorry and Thanks Becky…I knew Brady’s retirement was an AFJoke! Speaking of Kraft, I would think his hiring of this guy http://tinyurl.com/yxprk4fm would be a hoot expecially given the to-do about changing Yawkey Way back to Jersey St. RE the old Sox owner, Yawkey, rejecting Jackie Robinson’s tryout…Again this is a great movie….http://tinyurl.com/yyq8bqx9

          Alas, and of greater concern, I’m disappointed (:-( RE Chains as no one has taken on my query of 3/4/19 of a definition of Chains whereby also its implied negativeness, would take into account places like Morton’s, Lawry’s, Ruth’s Chirs, et. al.
          [Hope some of your snows have started melting…http://tinyurl.com/y54sjaey ]

          1. Bob, earlier this week I compiled a “semi-brilliant” response to your chain restaurant inquiry. Unfortunately, I neglected to add my name and email address before hitting the submit button and Gil’s web site relegated my response to the netherworld. I’ve now forgotten the point I was trying to make so I’m just sending a link to a (possibly biased) definition of independent restaurants and chains that may interest you: http://www.nevobusiness.com/independentrestaurants/chain.html.

            Although not a fan of chains by any stretch of the imagination, I do confess to an occasional stop at In-N-Out Burger during the time I was sentenced to living in the Los Angeles area. And when I traveled so much on business, I did like a reliably decent steak dinner at Ruth’s Chris.

            1. That’s a coincidence, in that I have stated that In-N-Out Burger is not the best burger in the world. Just the best burger in the fast food chain world. And the last chain steakhouse I ate in was a Ruth’s Chris, and it was good as I remember. I can’t name another chain I ate in and liked. Never go to chains.

              Hey, I stand corrected, maybe Bravo in Uptown ABQ. Have you been? They serve meatballs on an elongated plate (sort of like a huge plate for olives) that’s very good. It’s off the menu and you have to ask.

            2. Tom, I’ve never been to Bravo although there’s one at the local Galleria Mall and it has pretty good ratings on line. My eyes tend to glaze over when I see a chain. I live in Western New York where we enjoy the benefits of horrible winter weather, a large Italian population and lots of locally owned Italian mom and pop restaurants serving a surfeit of fabulous food. It’s nice to hear that Bravo serves great meatballs but I recommend that you try Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho. It’s a real deal red sauce joint – every time Kim and Gil go there, I’m reduced to salivating. Or take a buzz down to Forghedaboudit in Deming, owned by Bob and Kim Yacone. Bob is a Buffalo ex-pat who not only knows his way around an Italian kitchen but he’s an award-winning pizzaiolo and master of Buffalo wings. Their daughter, who recently graduated from the CIA in Hyde Park, NY, is also now part of the operation. In addition to hard core Italian, they’re doing some great innovative food with a New Mexican twist. Check them both out on Gil’s reviews.

    2. In three visits to Sparky’s, we have yet to try the green chile lemonade, but have enjoyed a mango and guajillo shake with more piquancy than most green chile stews. We’ve also had the green chile shake which has even more bite.

      Sadly, we’ve never been to Caliche’s.

      Frozen custard has actually been around for about a century with Coney Island vendors offering them since 1919. The standard-bearer for frozen custards is probably Ted Drew’s out of St. Louis though Milwaukee has several purveyors who also do a great job with frozen custard.

      Several years ago, a short-lived local purveyor named Chillz made a go at hooking Duke City diners on frozen custard, but sadly, it just didn’t take.

  3. One thing that amazed me in the list of the best breakfast spot in each state was how many of them are CHAINS. There are probably more but these are the ones I spotted that I knew about:
    1. Madisonville, Alabama-Another Broken Egg-a chain with 34 restaurants from Mandeville, LA
    2. Snooze, Houston, Tx-A very large chain started in Denver-It is a great Pigout that anybody could love
    3. Big Bad Breakfast, Oxford, Ms, Branches in four states
    4. Original Pancake House, Cincinnati, OH-Started in Oregon, 150 branches including Japan & Korea
    etc, etc

    I finally found the best way to locate a great breakfast in San Diego. I just said “Hey Siri, what is the best place for breakfast?”
    She replied that “The best choice would be Werewolf Bar at 627 4th Street. Great food, service and reasonable prices.” It sounded unlikely but she was right.

    1. You bring up and interesting question for me and that is, Should a “best of” list exclude chains?
      Especially on a food blog curated by the “Poet Laureate of Appetite” Gil Garduno.
      After all, our meals in life are numbered and the number is diminishing. Why squander them at a chain?

      1. My feelings about chain restaurants are probably best expressed in my review of Joe’s Pasta House. Once a year, despite my protestations and whining, I agree to take my Kim to the Olive Garden. It’s a deal we have, albeit one that makes me feel like Faust in the Christopher Marlowe play. Faust, for the non-English majors among you was a scholar who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. In my case, the deal is a visit to Olive Garden once a year in exchange for all the strange and exotic restaurants I want to visit the rest of the year. I sure got the rotten end of that deal.

        On a list of things I’d rather do, my annual visit to the Olive Garden for a meal of cheese glop or tomato torture ranks somewhere below visiting a proctologist or watching The View. Kim likes the salad and bread sticks and I suspect derives a bit of sadistic satisfaction in hearing me mutter polysyllabic epithets about the “Evil Garden’s” food. The cultural anthropologist in me finds it both amusing and tragic that teeming masses congregate for pathetic pasta, mediocre marinara and boring bread sticks.

        Every year my Kim decides to collect my soul, er….have me make good on my promise and take her to the Olive Garden (which she doesn’t like nearly as much as she likes the annoyance it brings me at the mere thought of visiting a chain restaurant). In the traditional deal with the devil motif of literature and cinema, when Satan comes to collect the witless pawn’s immortal soul, the pawn begs, bribes, cajoles and barters to no avail. Unlike the pawn, however, I had one barter up my sleeve. “Rather than the Olive Garden, wouldn’t you rather go to a better chain restaurant.”

        That’s how we’ve wound up at California Pizza Kitchen, Slapfish and other chain rest restaurants at which I would otherwise avoid like Whoopi Goldberg and The Plague…er, I mean The View.

        1. My last religious epiphany happened not on the road to Damascus (or Santa Fe for that matter) but standing in front of a Chili’s salad bar.

          There were 14 aluminum containers, the exact number of the Stations of the Cross, only instead of images depicting Jesus Christ on the day of his crucifixion, each container featured an anemic, paler version of the garden of earthly delights all encased in a 12-foot buffet display with sneeze guard.

      2. Alas Thomas and to Others herein! I’ve been meaning to blather this for quite awhile. Perhaps it is looking forward to our change to DayLight Savings Time this weekend that is inexorably/inexlicably pushing me to do it now, given Thomas’ noting “You bring up and interesting question for me and that is, Should a “best of” list exclude chains?”

        As Y’all know, I am easily flummoxed. As such, I must ask Y’all/Commentators herein, to please explain…have a discussion about….what is meant by a/the “Chain”!!!!? And e.g., its (their) parameters/and universal negatories!
        ~ Didn’t all/most “chains” start out as a Mom n Pop, local operations trying to make a living as one might as a plumber/electrician/physician or dentist-akin to a laborer filling potholes? Must chains take on a nefarious/less than approvable aura?
        E.g. Sam Walton started out as a Local/Single Owner enterprise
        1962.jpg http://tinyurl.com/yxvsfl4e
        I do not imagine these
        download j.jpgs http://tinyurl.com/y2xahped “launched” with a hundred in CA!

        Are places that have multiple locations ipso facto a chain? Does that mean even if they are e.g. just in ABQ?…i.e. even tho they are LOCAL/Mom n Pop, e.g. Powdrell’s; Garcia’s; a time ago as Gardunos; Lil Anitas; and let alone The Range, Last Call, Flying Star or M’tuccis etc., are they a “chain” and should be shunned?

        Are Locals, ipso facto, always/inclusively….better than what some might consider “Chains”…e.g. People seem to think ribs are great. Similarly, Red Chile seems extolled. No one has ever named a place(s) in town where Red Chile Ribs are better than those at Locally owned/Mom n Pop’s El Pinto. Yet, I never read about Folks’ opinion of these Ribs in a place that’s been in existance for 56 years and has received national recognition for them regardless that everything else sucks or is overpriced?

        “After all, our meals in life are numbered and the number is diminishing. Why squander them at a chain?” Now I’m really discombobulated! Should we NOT go to Morton’s, Lawry’s, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse? LOL

        Alas, even Yelp seems befuddled! http://tinyurl.com/y6xh6clj

        Might this be the moment in time for ABQ (UsY’all) to proffer a (national) neologism for whatever it is that is sought to be so exclusively pinned down/described?

        1. Based on thousands and thousands of reviews, TripAdvisor was able to determine the Top 10 Chain restaurants in three categories. Chains with 10-50 locations, 51-100 locations, and 101+ locations. These rankings “are based on the quality, quantity and recency of reviews from TripAdvisor diners” within the past calendar year from December 1, 2017 through November 30, 2018:

          https://brobible.com/culture/article/top-10-chain-restaurants-2019-small-medium-large/

          Only three of my visitations made the list: Ruth’s Chris Steak House (a long, long time ago), The Cheesecake Factory (an even longer time ago), and In-N-Out Burger (a mandatory drive-thru every visit to CA).

          How about you?

          1. I have actually been to more than you:
            1. Seasons 52. I had already made reservations before I realized it was a chain-mediocre.
            2. Pappadeaux which I usually refer to as the worlds most expensive fish & chips except for that elusive week in February. Then on the rare occasion when I hit it they have bargain oysters which are actually fresh & good.
            3. Yard House-Sucks.
            4. The Cheesecake Factory-I always stop by the door whenever I see one to ask whether Penney is in, she never is so I never go in either. Last summer I did the question in Denver. Nobody admitted to ever having heard on Penny so we ate. I wish we hadn’t.
            5. In-N-Out Burger-I love it. Is it the greatest burger in the world? No, but it is very good and not supersized. I hate giant burgers.
            6. Sweet Tomatoes-OK.

            1. In-N-Out burger is not the *greatest burger in the world* just the *greatest in the fast-food drive-thru world*.

  4. ~ Feb. 2019 ReCap:
    ~ Seriously? It makes me grit my teeth to see/be shown a perfectly golden toasted Split of an English Muffin growing cold without butter melting upon/infusing in it.
    ~ While it seems like aspersions are being cast upon Trader Joe’s, I can only surmise that Y’all did not get any of TJ’s Brandy Beans this past Holiday/Dec. Season…too sad!
    ~ Shame on the Food Network missing The Dog House’s FootLong (New Mexican Red) Chile Cheese Dog con Onions as part of Cheap Eats!
    ~ As a (self appointed, herein) Representative of Dyslexics of America (DoA) let me say, and I think most non DoAs would agree, we know what is meant by Huveros! Please be patient with us who otherwise have….Sexdaily!
    ~ The Shed? I went, albeit only once, and was not impressed.
    ~ Alas, RE Peas with Peppercorn…I’m not convinced that the “Mushy Peas” served with the Fish n Chips at 1933 Brewing Co. would be that greatly improved with a smidgen of garlic/parsley/chives…i.e. to make them PwP….but I may be wrong!
    Hasta…

  5. I heard about the pea and peppercorn mash thing on Google on the local news. I had to laugh because, as usual, they just don’t get it…and apparently Google doesn’t either. Pea and peppercorn mash was the most searched snack for the Super Bowl in NM. Most likely because people were asking just what the heck it was, and trying to see what was in it (i.e., the recipe)…not that it’s the most popular snack. Most people don’t need to look up a recipe for nachos…

    It astounds me how your job (not you, Gil, the local news, etc.) can be to provide information to the public and you can’t apply simple logic to the stories you decide to air and think about things JUST A LITTLE before you make such ridiculous claims.

  6. ~ Alas, lest there may be another like myself who, while admiring the creativity of today’s cup cake makers, shies away from cupcakes per they’re awkward to eat…”How can ya eat one while being dainty and keeping one’s Macho mystique?” Alas, there’s a site for that http://tinyurl.com/qedbee8 !
    ~ While it is wise to keep this Blog apolitical, I hope this wont be misperceived as being over the rim/or pushing a bias, but simply presenting a reflection related to the focus of the Blog, i.e. as an issue about which restaurant owners and servers are expressing concern in contrast to other workers. I share it as I know many Folks…admittedly only in my Bubble….no longer subscribe to the ABQ Journal and presume that might be the case herein.
    Please consider reading: http://tinyurl.com/y6u4h7wy and http://tinyurl.com/ybgrzp4s and lastly, in the 2/1 AJ, Committee OKs wage bill despite tip outcry
    http://tinyurl.com/y75wmklm As Folks have concerns about the Minimum Wage for other reasons, please consider expressing your own preferences to your Legislators http://tinyurl.com/gvnvcnf and not here as I’m not trying to start a Food Fight!

    1. Thanks. I just called Mike Baker, owner of the food truck The Smoke Shack, and indeed he does do rib tips but not always. We discussed rib tips and he agreed “no one in New Mexico does rib tips. That’s more of a southern thing.” Which explains why I found it in Tupelo, Mississippi. He said the next day he’s cooking is this Wednesday, parked in the lot between Discount Tires and the White Swan Building, in Santa Fe.

      He took my phone number and said he’d call me if he can get rib tips from his supplier (Sam’s) and smoke ’em good. Stay tuned. I will post if he calls me. Isn’t this exciting? I feel like it’s a drug deal. Which, when you consider BBQ addicts such as me, it kind of is.

  7. In the legal field, a pleading is a formal presentation to the court of a complaint by a party. Here, I’m pleading Whole Hog and every other ABQ establishment known to engage in smoking meats for profit to please put rib tips on your menu.

    The rib tip is a triangular, cartilage-dotted slab of meat attached to the lower end of the sparerib. The rib tip takes flavor to a whole other gustatory level by combining the meat goodness of spareribs with the fatty richness of pork belly, which rests nearby.

    Has anybody on this blog been served rib tips in the Duke City? If so, please post. If not, please join me in forming a class action pleading to the court.

    1. The ribs at Golden Pride have the rib tips attached. While not exactly what you’re talking about, they are probably my favorite part of those ribs…

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