In 2009, James Beard Award-winning food journalists Jane and Michael Stern published a terrific tome entitled 500 Things to Eat Before It’s Too Late. Despite the ominous (some might say fatalistic) name, the book is actually a celebration of the best dishes that are unique to this country. The Sterns, who have been focusing on quirky All-American food haunts since 1977, describe in delicious detail, the best dishes proffered at roadside stands, cafes, street carts throughout the fruited plain.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Michael Stern was asked if the inclusion of the words “too late” in the book’s title referred to the “death of the small eatery, or the reader’s impending doom from eating too much fried chicken, French fries and fried fish.” He indicated he was referring to “the impending onslaught of the nutrition police who will make all of this stuff illegal one of these days.” He also warned of the loss of “some variety and some local specialties that were once easy to find and are now hard or impossible to find due to chain restaurants.”
Despite the onslaught of the ubiquitous national food chain, Stern was optimistic that “Americans have become more conscious about regional food,” which in his experience was once thought to be limited to fried chicken and hot dogs. He praised the “rebirth of interest in regional food that parallels its diminution because of franchises.”
New Mexicans should be duly proud at how well represented our cuisine is among the 500 uniquely American foods celebrated in the book. By the same token, as I’ve often railed about on this blog, if we don’t patronize the mom and pop restaurants who prepare these authentic time-tested treasures, all we will be left with is the chain restaurants and their homogeneous cardboard tasting food, superficial flamboyance and saccharin service.
Unlike on their previous Roadfood books, the Sterns actually rank what they consider the “best of the best” among the foods described. Understandably, when a book is published which encompasses the length and breadth of the United States, omissions are bound to occur. Still, for the most part, the Sterns do a wonderful job of winnowing out the premium wheat from a prize crop, highlighting those restaurants which provide unforgettable dining experiences in their natural setting prepared by locals who still do it in the traditional ways.
In the Sterns’ estimation, the “hot list” of New Mexican restaurants proffering the very best carne adovada in America starts with Rancho de Chimayo, whose carne adovada is described as “chunks of meat turned tender from their long marinade and glistening fiery red.” Following in succession are the Horseman’s Haven Cafe in Santa Fe, Albuquerque’s Frontier Restaurant, Leona’s Restaurant in Chimayo, then two Duke City dining institutions Sadie’s of New Mexico and Papa Felipe’s.
Most New Mexicans would probably agree with at least one restaurant named in that hallowed list. My own “hot list,” for example, would rank Mary & Tito’s Cafe as the standard-bearer, but would also include the carne adovada at Cecilia’s Cafe, The Burrito Lady and Duran’s Central Pharmacy in Albuquerque as well as The Shed in Santa Fe and the aforementioned Rancho de Chimayo.
One restaurant climbing toward my hot list is Papa Felipe’s, an astute listing by the Sterns who observed that “an unusual version is served at Papa Felipe’s Mexican Restaurant…where the pork is sopped with a marinade of green chiles, giving it a unique vegetable potency. It’s great as a green tamale pie, baked in sweet corn masa and laced with cheese.”
Green chile carne adovada is indeed a unique spin on a New Mexico standard, and to the best of my knowledge, Papa Felipe’s is the only restaurant in Albuquerque, if not the entire state, to feature it. When you stop to think about it, why not green chile carne adovada. The preparation process is the same–marinating chunks of pork in chile. Papa Felipe’s uses a blend of chopped green chile from Bueno Foods (a New Mexico institution since 1946) as well as the fat, elongated chiles they use for chile rellenos. The marinading process takes about three hours. The results will impress themselves on your taste buds for much longer.
Papa Felipe’s Mexican Restaurant & Lounge has been pleasing Albuquerque palates for more than 30 years with chef Larry Gonzales at the helm for most of that time. As with several restaurants in the Land of Enchantment, it straddles the sometimes ambiguous demarcation between New Mexican food and Mexican food and in fact, serves cuisine unique to and shared by both (often the sole distinction being the degree of heat). Some of the very best items on the menu are those with which Chef Gonzales has taken liberties and those he’s essentially invented.
From an experiential perspective, Papa Felipe’s has the look and feel of a Mexican restaurant that belies the New Mexico style stucco exterior. The interior features a combination of whitewash and stucco colored walls with faux adobe half-walls separating the main dining room. A mural of what appears to be a Mexican village is painted on one wall. A surprisingly good house stereo system pipes in Mexican standards by the great crooners of yesteryear and today. Seating is comfortable and plush.
A full bar serves a wide variety of domestic and Mexican beers and a selection of house wines as well as what is reputed to be “the meanest margarita in town.” One of the more popular margaritas is named for New Mexico’s legendary Dixon apple. Additionally, Papa Felipe’s offers full-service catering, drop-off catering and pick-up services.
The wait staff is prompt with complementary chips and salsa. The chips are lightly salted and thin. The salsa, which is sold online internationally, is also lightly salted. It is a jalapeno-based salsa which according to the Web site is made from “the finest ingredients combined with secret spices.” It’s not an especially piquant salsa and has a pureed texture like a tomato paste, but it very much tastes like New Mexico.
26 February 2017: One of chef Gonzales’s unique creations, the Botana Crispeante has an “east meets west” feel to it. The menu describes this appetizer as “spicy beef, chicken or carne adovada filling (or a combination of the three), crisp fried as a chimipiqueño.” Chimipiqueño appears to be a diminutive version of a chimichanga, a deep-fried burrito. The Botana Crispeante features of these six bite-sized miniature burritos which might remind you more of miniature egg rolls with unique New Mexico touches.
The Botana Crispeante is served with chile con queso and guacamole, both of which are quite good. The chile con queso is creamy and delicious, thick enough not to run off your chips but not so gloppy that it breaks the brittle chips. The guacamole showcases the flavor of fresh avocados seasoned with garlic. Both complement the deep-fried mini burritos very well. If for no other reason than their uniqueness, this is an appetizer you should try. The fact that they’re quite good is a bonus.
28 July 2013: While several Duke City restaurants serve excellent renditions of caldo de res, the hearty, satisfying beef soup, not as many restaurants offer caldo de albondigas, another Mexican comfort food favorite often referred to as “Mexican soul food.” Moorish in origin, Caldo de Albondigas was integrated into Spanish culinary tradition when Spanish King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella conquered the region occupied by the Moors. Albondigas made their way to Mexico with the conquistadores where the dish has flourished into iconic status. Papa Felipe’s version is a soul-warming and delicious bowl of hearty goodness with a generous number of meatballs swimming in a savory 16-ounce broth with perfectly prepared carrots, celery, onions, tomatoes and squash. The meatballs are terrific, so good you’ll want a dozen or so.
26 February 2017: As for the green tamale pie which Jane and Michael Stern praised so highly, that praise is well warranted. Succulent carne adovada is baked in a sweet corn masa with bits of vegetables, green chile and a touch of onion set of with a liberal lacing of melted yellow Cheddar cheese and green chile. The star is definitely the green chile carne adovada which is as tender as any we’ve had in Albuquerque, but with the pronounced flavor and aroma of green chile. Your taste buds might be confused at first bite, but they’ll quickly get over it and will enjoy this dish immensely. It’s a winner–truly one of the best 500 things to eat in America and a contender for my carne adovada “hot list.”
Speaking of “hot lists,” it wasn’t solely Papa Felipe’s carne adovada which the Sterns rated as among America’s best. The green tamale pie was one of three tamale pies beloved enough by the Sterns to praise effusively in their book. About the green tamale pie, they wrote, “Green tamale pie at Papa Felipe’s Mexican Restaurant in Albuquerque broadcasts the palmy essence of New Mexico chiles and is well appointed with Papa’s excellent carne adovada.”
26 February 2017: Traditionalists who love their carne adovada red can have that, too. One of the best ways is in Papa Felipe’s Chilaquile Casserole, a brimming bowlful of joy (think Beethoven’s Fifth at every bite). This entree is layer upon layer of luscious carne adovada (red), melted yellow Cheddar cheese, spicy green peppers, sweet corn, and tostadas smothered in red chile. The casserole is baked to perfection then topped with even more cheese, chile and garnish. This entree includes a flour tortilla and a side of guacamole (among the very best in New Mexico). Only with a fried egg can this dish be improved upon.
28 July 2013: Although Papa Felipe’s isn’t open for breakfast, it does offer one of the very best–and certainly one of the largest–breakfast burritos in Albuquerque. The aptly named Big Papa Breakfast Burrito is constructed from a giant flour tortilla engorged with three scrambled eggs, Papa’s potatoes, carne adovada (marinated in your choice of red or green chile) and Cheddar Jack cheese topped with your choice of chile and more Cheddar Jack cheese. Both the red and green chile are exemplars of New Mexico’s official state vegetable with plenty of piquancy and flavor. Not every diner will be able to finish this behemoth of a burrito.
26 February 2017: Papa Felipe’s offers three styles of tacos: a traditional crisp fried corn tortilla filled with beef or chicken, the Fiesta Style Taco (two flour tortillas filled with marinated beef strips sautéed with onions, peppers, avocado and tomatoes, garnished with sour cream and pico de gallo) and a Puffy Taco (a large sopaipilla shell filled with chicken that has been marinated with salsa). The Fiesta Taco will remind you of fajitas which stands to reason the ingredients from which it’s constructed can also be found on fajitas. The marinated beef strips are of prime steak quality.
28 July 2013: Another entree as good for breakfast as it is for lunch or dinner is the Mexican skillet, a sizzling skillet filled with papitas, carne adovada, and two eggs any style. The papitas aren’t fried in the style of French fries as so many papitas tend to be. Try this dish with the green marinated chile carne adovada for a different take on the dish. This entree is served with one side and a flour tortilla.
In its annual Food & Wine issue for 2012, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded Papa Felipe’s New Mexican Restaurant a Hot Plate Award signifying the selection of its Camarones Victor as one of the “most interesting, special and tasty dishes around.” Considering the thousands of potential selections, to be singled out is quite an honor.
In April, 2016, Papa Felipe’s was one of four Duke City restaurants (along with Tia B’s La Waffleria, Laguna Burger and Rebel Donut) featured on the Cooking Channel. In an episode entitled “Cheap Eats,” host and food blogger Ali Khan had dinner at Papa Felipe’s where he enjoyed a sopaipilla stuffed with carne adovada. Papa Felipe’s was selected because of its unusual take on New Mexican food.
Papa Felipe’s is one of those rare restaurants which defies paradigms and dares to be different with such inventive entrees as carne adovada made with green chile, entrees which are too good to be on any endangered list. Just in case, make sure you try them before it’s too late.
Papa Felipe’s Mexican Restaurant
9800 Menaul, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 26 February 2017
# OF VISITS: 7
BEST BET: Botana Crispeante, Salsa and Chips, Green Tamale Pie, Chilaquile Casserole, Sopaipillas, Caldo de Albondigas, Mexican Skillet, Big Papa Breakfast Burrito, Fiesta Tacos
20 thoughts on “Papa Felipe’s Mexican Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico”
It was with a bit of trepidation that we returned to dine here after an absence of more than a year. But it was after 2:00 p.m. and we wanted New Mexican food and that limits your options in this town! I had been noticing lots of cars in the parking lot over the last few months and thought it was worth a try. It was okay; more good than bad. The kitchen was slow but that was always the case when the boss was working the floor (which she was today) and not upstairs in the kitchen. The lunch special / senior menu is now hovering around $10. There are some decent choices on there, and with the complimentary chips, salsa and sopapillas, its a filling meal. I had to branch out from the bargain menu today so I could see if the guacamole tostadas were still as good as I remembered. I recall the guac having more avocado and less filler, but my tostada was still tasty. The ground beef tacos were the best part of the meal. It seems like everybody is getting $5 – $6 for a basic American taco these days and these are priced in line with that. Happily they were chock full of meat. The meat is hardly spiced at all, but your meal comes with your choice of chile”””’ so you can knock it up a notch. The salsa that comes with the chips works nicely also. All in all, it wasn’t as good as it used to be but was nowhere near as terrible as it was after Larry left. We’ll give them another chance. Especially if it’s after 2 p.m. and/or we want to fulfill our craving for New Mexican cuisine flavors without spending a fortune.
We used to love this place but hadn’t been for a while & won’t be for much longer as it was absolutely awful. It is very obvious that Larry Gonzales is no longer there as the place has gone to hell. We were immediately seated as on a Friday night there were many empty tables (We later understood why). Our server took our order after quite a wait and after a long wait, probably close to an hour, brought something somewhat similar to what we had ordered but cold after the customary warning to beware of the hot plates because it had been sitting for a long time. I had ordered flat blue corn enchiladas and received rolled white enchiladas. The server said she had told me they were out of blue corn (she hadn’t). Nothing was very good.
Thank you for posting this. We used to eat here at least once a week, then things started to go south a few months back. Couldn’t figure out if we were just hitting them on bad days, or staff shortages, or what. Finally gave up. Happily no lack of great New Mexican food in this town, but I will miss their senior menu with the bargain prices. Oh, and I inhaled many a fine guacamole tostada there. Did Larry retire or move on, does anyone know?
OK, I can cross one new (to me) restaurant off my “must try” list. We went to Papa Felipe’s last night. Since this was my first time trying it, I decided to play it safe. My philosophy is to first judge a restaurant by the basic dishes. If they can’t do the basic dishes right, then why bother going back.
I also hesitate to post comments until I’ve been to someplace twice. As Papa Felipe’s is out of the way for me, I’m not sure how soon I’ll be back, so I decided to comment sooner rather than later.
Had a combo plate (chicken enchilada w/red, taco, relleno w/green) with refritos (refried beans) and mexican corn. Chile was good. Would have to say the green was better than the red. The relleno was very tasty. The enchilada was OK. The taco was absolutely very enjoyable. It had the beef/potato mixture, and I love that! The sides were OK. The sopapilla was OK as well. I’ve had better, but I’ve certainly had worse as well.
Overall, I was satisfied with the meal and will probably be back, just now sure when due to inconvenient location for me.
Similar to you Noe, my benchmark at New Mexican dishes when trying a new restaurant is enchiladas. One of the few restaurants at which I didn’t stick to that formula was Papa Felipe’s. There were so many tempting variations to traditional foods that lured me away: Green Tamale Pie, Green Chile Carne Adovada, Botana Crispeante and the Chilaquile Casserole. I do plan on trying the enchiladas, but will likely try the “Macho Enchiladas,” which have Chef Gonzales’s stamp of uniqueness. I encourage you to return soon and try one of the aforementioned dishes you won’t find elsewhere.
We dropped by last night and chef Larry Gonzales gave us the Geezer Menu (for some reason they call it a senior menu) which I didn’t even know existed. After giving Boballoo’s Journal Rewards card and guzzling two beers we paid only $24 for a great Chile Relleno, and a Blue Corn Tapatia with a generous tip for superb service and had a great breakfast this morning.
This was just too cheap so I told Chef Gonzales. He told me that the Cooking Channels “Cheap Eats” , which I had never heard of, would be filming there next week. I hope our little friend Rachael Ray isn’t involved though I give her credit for being a damn hard working woman.
Are you sure you weren’t given the celebrity discount? You may have been mistaken for Bruce’s son-in-law, the great soccer star who bears a striking resemblance to you.
The Cooking Channel is a sibling to the Food Network. Our cable provider doesn’t carry it either.
The ‘geezer menu’ also doubles as the ‘lunch specials’ menu, so those of us approaching geezerhood but not there yet can still partake of the cheap eats. My favorite is the ‘chile bowl’– your choice of meat, beans, and chile mixed together into a wonderful bowl of yum. My favorite combination is the green carne adovada with whole beans and green chile. A lunch bargain at $7.50.
We had a wonderful meal at the FOG table. Meeting chef Larry and discussing the wonders of chile was awesome as was enjoying some of the samples he proudly shared. Really enjoyed the Green Tamale Pie.
As I had a training session last night on this side of town and just down the street, regarding volunteering for this Saturday’s (the 24th) Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk (Y’all are invited!!!) where Folks can start to register at 7:30AM in the NE parking lot of Cottonwood Mall to do the old walking route of past years starting at 8:30, thought I’d drop in as I’ve enjoyed Papa’s over the years since when I lived nearby when it opened. Instead of Huevos, I tried the Chimichanga, opting for the carne choice. Indeed a bountiful plate which included choices of rice and beans. Thumbs up for the flavorful green chile being on the side as it minimizes the Chimi getting soggy, as can sadly happen elsewhere. Alas, the generous dollops of sour cream and flavorful guac adorning it had limited effect as well.
A Bottom Line, “Local” comparison: while it may not have a great patio as Oh, let’s say El Pinto, Papa has taken pains to provide a comparable NM Southwest decor with hospitable Service. My palate says dishes are comparable, but I must note Papa gets several more points given its “family” oriented/reasonable prices.
The sign outside says “Chowders Back”. They are serving a green chile, chicken, corn chowder. Give it a try. It’s quite tasty. Though, of course, I think it would be better with more green chile.
The green chile chicken corn chowder isn’t on the menu because they only serve it in the fall and winter months. It usually comes back around Labor Day. I had some last week, and that batch had plenty of hot chile (and I say the hotter the better!) Since they make it from scratch, it’s always a little different each time as to the ratio of chile to corn to taters to chicken or how large or small the taters were chopped. To me, that’s part of its charm. I’ll be in chowder heaven until next spring! 🙂
Yesterday we continued our recent trend of returning to restaurants after absences of many years, in this instance 20-years. Papa Felipe’s also sustained a trend of being much better than I remembered it.
I ordered Green chile carne adovada in the form of a stuffed sopapillia with sides of refried beans and corn chowder. I loved all but the chowder-the starchy corn simply did not appeal to my childhood corn belt tastes.
She had the fish tacos (cod not talapia which we both hate) in corn tortillas which we usually are not fond of but the result was excellent.
The salsa served with the chips was chunky and very hot, not that which you had. We are happy customers as I had remembered it as huge portions of bland.
I eat there frequently, even though I live on the West Side. This is the only place in town that I will order chicken tamales. They’re perfect– large, tender, flavorful, with just the right ratio of masa to filling. And they are not overcooked and rubbery like everywhere else I’ve ordered tamales…. I could almost eat them without any chile (but don’t miss the chile– it’s spicy and wonderful.)
You must be extremely hungry to order a burrito or plan on taking part of it home. The chicken corn chowder is practically a meal in itself. When you get tired of crispeantes, try the taquitos– large and flavorful whether chicken or beef, made in house, not ordered in bulk.
@M.R. Pine, I’ve had the occasional service hiccup over time, but I would encourage you to try one more time and ask to speak with Larry (the executive chef) if you have food/service issues. He will get it corrected quickly, even if that means he personally goes back into the kitchen and prepares it himself, and he’ll work with the staff to make sure the issue goes away for good. But he can’t fix a problem he doesn’t know about. Most of the servers are very good, though, and I rarely encounter an issue.
Their food may be excellent. I have no idea.. The service was extraordinarily horrible. My four different visits over a year were a nightmare. Not ONCE did I receive the dish I had ordered. If I ordered red chili, I got green . If I ordered tamales, I got rellenos.Or my food was served stone cold. When I asked that the order be corrected it was promptly returned to the kitchen. And then I waited and waited and waited some more while everyone else at the table finished their meal. Never, ever again for me.
I drive by this place all the time on my daily commute, but have never stopped there. I’ll definitely give this place a try now that I’ve read your review, Gil.
I have an annual gathering with 10-12 former coworkers. The vote for next year is a return to Papa’s where we’ve been twice the last five years. While the ambiance adds to this being a ‘Fiesta’, a nicho they have is appealing for easier conversation being a group; oh, they give a thumbs up for the food meeting a variety of taste buds with the ‘everyday’ prices (menu: http://papafelipes.com/pdfs/dinner_menu.pdf ) being an added enticement for retirees. Eh, must be half way good place as its been around 30+ years. Oh, got to let Locals know, Papa’s is a participant in the Journal’s Press Pass program where one gets 20% off at participating restaurants!!! (Y’all can see them here http://www.nmpresspass.com/ )
I continue to think Papa Felipe’s is one of the more underrated New Mexican restaurants in town. I had lunch there today and tried the Chilaquile Casserole for the first time, with a fried egg on top. Fantastic dish. The carne adovada can definitely hold its own, and the sweet corn adds a great extra layer of flavor. You will not be disappointed if you try this out.
I went here for lunch as soon as I saw this review yesterday morning and boy were you right Gil! The green tamale pie was more than amazing and that “eggroll” appetizer that they call the Botana Crispeante was a nice unique touch to their large and unique menu indeed. I’ll def have to go back to try the Chilaquile Casserole the next time I want to gain a couple more pounds 😉
Kay and I regularly go to Papa Felipe’s. The food is consistently very good tho the sopapillas sometimes not so much. In addition to being fairly close to home a big draw for us is their coupons. You can sign up with them and they mail a coupon for a free entree on your birthday and anniversary. Coupons for a $1.99 entree also regularly appear in the Venue and on Coupons4ABQ.com. All require that you purchase another entree at regular price and two beverages. Remember this is New Mexicanrestaurant. You wanna steak? Go someplace else. John L