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