Sophia’s – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Despite what the Name on the Marquee Says, This is the New Home of Sophia’s

Exterior signage for Dennis Apodaca’s new restaurant venture sports the name of the previous tenant, a short-lived eatery named MIXX. In a February blurb announcing Dennis’s return, the Albuquerque Journal called his new venture “REMIXX.” A handwritten note scrawled on the front door, however, informs you that you’ve arrived at “Sophia’s – that you knew & loved on 4th St. NW.” Not taking any chances, Yelp lists entries for both “REMIXX by Sophia’s Place” and “Sophia’s.” So which is it? Ask Dennis and he’ll tell you that despite what the sign says, his restaurant is a relaunch of Sophia’s, the celebrated restaurant that made him one of Albuquerque’s most talked-about and respected chefs. “I’d rather spend money on serving great food than replacing a sign” he laughs.

Dennis points out that the exterior signage for Trois Mec, one of the most revered fine-dining restaurants in Los Angeles, still bears the name of its predecessor, Raffalo’s Pizza. That’s entirely by design, the point being that despite a constantly changing five-course tasting menu approaching a C-note price point, the restaurant is unpretentious, its focus being on the food not peripherals such as signage. The term “unpretentious” probably fits Dennis more than it does any other chef in Albuquerque. He’s as down-to-earth as they come, a straight-shooting guy whose passions are family, fine cigars and cooking. Despite an enviable pedigree that includes cooking side-by-side with some of the country’s best chefs at some of the most highly acclaimed restaurants in the fruited plain, he would rather turn out an affordable menu of New Mexico-inspired Mexican food than a more pricey menu of fine-dining entries.

The Bright, Sunny Dining Room at Sophia’s

Ensconced on the southwest corner space on the first floor of the capacious Silver Moon Lodge apartment building along historic Route 66, Sophia’s reborn is the antithesis of its namesake predecessor. Where the Sophia’s on 4th Street was situated in a homey ramshackle old structure and for a time didn’t even have signage to tell you you’d arrived, the new Sophia’s has a more contemporary feel to it. Parking at the new venue on the fringes of both downtown and Old Town is a bit tricky, but at least you’ll be parking on pavement. The parking lot at the old Sophia’s was prone to muddiness during inclement weather.

While Sophia’s would remain Dennis’s flagship restaurant, operating from 2002 through its unexpected closure in 2017, the enterprising chef would launch several other restaurant ventures over the years, all but one named for family members. First came Ezra’s Place (2008 – 2013) which was named for his then teenage son. Next came the magnificent, but short-lived Jo’s Place (2011 – 2012) named for his mother, the delightful Josie. Just before the dawning of 2017, he launched Maya, a name inspired by the bright, vibrant cuisine prepared by the dynastic Mesoamerican civilization and their descendants. He left Maya to launch the second instantiation of Sophia’s in March, 2017.

Salsa and Chips

Dennis’s cachet was elevated from local to nationwide when he wowed Guy Fieri, the Food Network’s spiky-coiffed host of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives during a 2008 episode. He would parlay that appearance into an invitation to compete in the Food Network’s Chopped program where he displayed his chops to another nationwide audience. Exposure on the Food Network made Sophia’s a restaurant to which visitors pilgrimaged. His other restaurants, all fabulous in their own right, were frequented more by Duke City devotees of dining Dennis style. Some of us will follow him anywhere.

Count my friends Larry “the professor with the perspicacious palate” McGoldrick and Dazzling Deanell among them. After his first visit to the original Sophia’s, Larry wrote “I have done some stupid things in my life, but waiting almost three years after moving to Corrales from the east coast until eating at Sophia’s ranks near the top. With that stupidity cured, I am now hooked.” He wouldn’t wait three months after its launch to dine at the new Sophia’s. We were greeted at the door by Dennis’s delightful mother Josie an effusive ambassador for the restaurant’s food and her son’s prodigious talents. A spry and youthful grandmother, Josie is a perpetually smiling ray of sunshine, a terrific hostess.

Salmon Tacos (Photo Courtesy of Sarita)

The menu at Sophia’s isn’t a mirror image of the menu at its previous instantiation, but you will find several familiar favorites such as the duck enchiladas, shrimp tacos and a sirloin and green chile sandwich. Sophia’s is open for breakfast and lunch seven days a week and has a dog-friendly patio. Initially Sophia’s was a cash only operation, but not accepts all credit cards save for American Express. On select Friday evenings (call ahead), Dennis prepares a different thematic dinner. Whether it be Italian, Thai or some other ethnic cuisine, you can bet it will be outstanding. Dennis isn’t solely a chef who specializes in New Mexico inspired Mexican food; he can prepare anything you want and prepare it well. That was certainly validated during our inaugural visit.

Most Recent Visit: 19 June 2019

Eloquence isn’t always the use of fluffy “Gil-sized” words to paint artistic thoughts.  Sometimes eloquence is simply stated sagacity.  Take for example Anthony Bourdain’s short essay on what really matters about food:  “Anyone who’s a chef, who loves food, ultimately knows that all that matters is: ‘Is it good?  Does it give pleasure?”  When my friends Sarita, Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos and I made a last-minute lunch date for Sophia’s, we knew Dennis would prepare great food that would give us tremendous pleasure.  Sarita certainly enjoyed her salmon tacos (soft, warm corn tortillas enveloping fresh salmon, pineapple salsa and avocado slices) with rice and beans while Bob swooned over the lemon ricotta pancakes (more on these paragons of deliciousness below).  Both were on the daily specials menu.

Cali Burrito With Pork Pibil (Photo Courtesy of Sarita)

Your humble restaurant review blogger just can’t seem to get past those daily specials, a veritable testament to Dennis’s innovative cooking.  If his specials menu included a pair of Crocs smothered in mole rojo, you can bet I’d probably order it.  Luckily for me Crocs weren’t on the menu during our visit.  Instead, there was a Cali burrito with pork pibil and salsa.  Dennis marinades finely shredded pork in sour orange and achiote, garlic and cumin (just as it’s done in the Yucatan) then wraps it in banana leaves and slow-cooks it until it’s as tender as a hummingbird’s wings fluttering.  The “Cali” part of the burrito is the rice (integral in the Mission burritos popular in San Francisco) although Dennis elevates the boring and dry Frisco area rice with a moist and delicious Spanish rice.  It’s not often I rave about hand-held burritos (my preference is for them smothered in about a gallon of chile), but this one is special.

Previous Visits

1 May 2018: You’d be surprised how challenging it is to decide what to order from a relatively small menu, moreso when you’re also contemplating the daily specials. Josie doesn’t make it any easier because she raves about everything her son prepares. As we perused the menu, we shared a bowl of chicken chicharrones. They weren’t on the menu. Dennis just thought we’d like them…though he wouldn’t commit to calling them chicken chicharrones (there’s a pattern here). It’s a relatively simple offering of lean chicken thighs cut into thin pieces and tossed with Cotija cheese, cilantro, scallions and sea salt. Sometimes, as in the case of this dish, simple is best.

1 May 2018: At first browse, our second starter seemed equally simple–a bowl of black beans with avocado slices, Cotija cheese and pork rinds. Appearances can be deceiving. The black beans were impregnated with a pleasantly piquant chile that elevated them significantly. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve never liked black beans that much, preferring the sacrosanct pinto, New Mexico’s official state vegetable.) These black beans I liked…a lot! We used the pork rinds as a scoop mechanism to extricate those black beans from the bottom of the bowl and used the avocado as a palate-cleansing, tongue cooling aide. From a textural and flavor perspective, this dish was yet another huge success.

Grilled Cheese with Mango and Shoestring Fries with Salad

1 May 2018: Since discovering the transformative elotes at El Cotorro, my affections for corn-on-the-cob have been rather singularly focused. No other elote has been able to capture my fancy…until Sophia’s, that is. As with the elote at El Cotorro, this sumptuous starter begins with a flame-grilled sweet ear of corn. It’s elevated with the infusion of a lime aioli, chile powder and Cotija cheese. While that makes for a very messy proposition, you’ll enjoy licking any delicious residue off your fingers. You’ll also need a couple napkins to wipe your mouth afterwards. All corn-on-the-cob should be this good!

1 May 2018: While every dish Dennis prepares is a paragon of creativity and deliciousness, perhaps the dish which best shows off his versatility is vegetable curry with papaya salad, a special of the day during our inaugural visit. If you thought his repertoire was limited to New Mexico inspired Mexican food, this dish will convince you otherwise. It’s curry as well-prepared as the curry at the very best Thai restaurants in Albuquerque. Dennis has mastered the delicate balance of flavors–pungent, sweet, savory–characteristic of Thai food, not compromising the integrity of flavors to pander to American preferences for cloying Thai dishes. The vegetables are perfectly prepared, somewhere between al dente and fork-tender. In a masterstroke of genius, Dennis tops the vegetable curry with a tangy papaya salad, again as good as you’ll find at any Asian restaurant in town.

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

1 May 2018: Not that long ago, an inquiry by BOTVOLR about grilled cheese sandwiches launched an avalanche of comments with several respondents providing input as to where the Duke City’s best can be found. Sophia’s provides yet another contender, a rarefied exemplar of tradition meets innovation. Between buttery, lightly toasted bread are nestled the unlikely combination of Manchego cheese and mango slices. Yes, mango slices. Manchego, a cheese made with sheep’s milk has a distinct acidity and flavor profile reminiscent of a tangier Monterey Jack. It’s a perfect complement to the sweet richness of mango. I ordered this grilled cheese sandwich because it was “different,” but will order it again because it’s absolutely terrific. As with other burgers and sandwiches on the menu, it’s served with Dennis’s shoestring fries, the best in New Mexico.

5 May 2018: It’s often been said that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” Perhaps a more accurate aphorism might be “you knew what you had, you just never thought you’d lose it.” That was the case with Dennis’s magnificent lemon ricotta pancakes, the very best we’ve ever had. Those pancakes were our favorite from the rotation of fabulous flapjacks Dennis served at the original Sophia’s, a luscious line-up that includes blue corn pancakes, pumpkin pancakes and mixed berry pancakes. It’s great to see he hasn’t lost his touch. Available in quantities of one, two or four, you’ll kick yourself if you don’t have four, especially if you’re sharing.

Huevos Divorciados

One of the things that makes Dennis’s pancakes a panacea is his homemade butter, a culinary rarity that blew even Guy Fieri away. Fieri who has probably seen just about everything on his road tours seemed amazed that Dennis would go to that extent. After sampling Sophia’s homemade butter (made from separated heavy cream mixed with toasted pine nuts, dried cherries and honey), Fieri called it “outstanding.” A generous slather of that butter tops the pancakes along with fresh blueberries and strawberries. As expected, the pancakes are punctuated with a lemony flavor that tempers the sweetness of the syrup. These pancakes are available only on weekends, another reason to love Saturdays and Sundays.

5 May 2018: Josie got a kick out of it when I told her, in front of my Kim, that I wanted a divorce. Not from my bride of thirty-two years. I wanted one of the specials of the day, the curiously named Huevos Divorciados, a term which translates to divorced eggs. This dish is an exemplar of the official New Mexico state question: red or green. This dish features two fried eggs atop two tostadas topped with shredded white and yellow Cheddar and black beans . One egg is slathered with a tomatillo sauce (the green), the other with red chile. Both are absolutely superb! The tomatillo sauce is tart and herbaceous, the red chile piquant and rich. Dennis knows his way around Mexican sauces as well as most of us know our names. The tostadas are crispy around the edges and soft in the middle. The eggs are fried to your exacting specifications. Every divorce should be this good!

Roasted Organic Achiote Chicken Tostada

5 May 2018: Another special of the day, emphasis on the word “special,” is the roasted organic achiote chicken tostada with black beans, avocado slices and a fried egg served with a salad. Achiote is a orange-red spice with a subtle, earthy flavor and peppery aroma, but a little goes a long way. Dennis knows exactly how much to use and how to use it. Thin strips of organic chicken are a perfect vehicle for the achiote. The richness of the avocados provides a pleasant counterbalance while the fried egg lends a savory deliciousness. A light sprinkled of Cojita cheese adds a light feta-like saltiness. This is yet another terrific dish.

12 May 2018: Long-time Duke City diners may remember that before there was a Sophia’s in that dilapidated 4th Street location, there was Fajitaville and a young chef named Dennis Apodaca. When Fajitaville closed in 2002, Dennis rented the location and named it for his daughter Sophia. One holdover from Dennis’s days at Fajitaville are some of the best salsas in town. An order of salsa and chips rewards diners with two salsas–a smoky chipotle salsa and a pico de gallo style salsa coupled with housemade chips served warm. Neither of the salsas are especially piquant, but both are redolent with freshness and flavor. The chipotle salsa is among the very best in New Mexico and that’s saying a lot. The chips are lightly salted and oversized for Gil-sized portions of salsa. Unfortunately you’ll run out of salsa before you run out of chips.

Nopales Breakfast Tacos

12 May 2018: Jonathan Gold of the Los Angeles Times, the only food writer ever to earn a Pulitzer Prize, once wrote “when it’s done properly, taco should be a verb.” In Albuquerque, Dennis has made taco not only an active verb but a possessive adjective (as in my taco), an exclamation and an interjection (as in aha, great tacos). His scallop tacos are superb, his shrimp tacos a revelation and his carnitas tacos are transformative. In his breakfast nopales tacos, we found a new favorite. Nopales or nopalitos are the flat paddles of prickly pear cactus (nopal). Remove the thorns, slice them up, bottle them in brine and they’re delicious, albeit a bit on the slimy side. Dennis pairs nopales with scrambled eggs, fresh salsa and cojita cheese then packs them tightly into two warm corn tortillas. The tortillas can barely contain their contents. You won’t be able to contain your smile as you enjoy them.

12 May 2018: A couple of years ago, Business Insider published a feature entitled “How to make any quesadilla better.” Obviously very few people in Albuquerque need help finding the quintessential quesadilla but if they do, all they need to do is point their GPS toward Sophia’s. The carnitas quesadilla with salsa, eggs and papas is one of the best reasons to get up in the morning. It’s several orders of magnitude better than the best Business Insider could do. Four triangular wedges of cheesy, meaty love can only be improved with some of Sophia’s magnificent salsa.

Carnitas Quesadilla

Sophia’s is located directly across Central Avenue from Robinson Park, home of the Downtown Grower’s Market. The market operates on Saturdays from April 14th through November 3rd from 8AM to noon. Parking is often a challenge when the market is in full swing, but it’s worth walking an extra block or six to visit one of the most dynamic and vibrant markets in the city followed or preceded by a fabulous breakfast or lunch at Sophia’s.

By any name, Sophia’s is an outstanding restaurant and platform for the culinary genius that is Dennis Apodaca. Albuquerque is a far better place with Sophia’s as its culinary heart.

Sophia’s
918 Central, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 916-5496
LATEST VISIT: 19 June 2019
1st VISIT: 1 May 2018
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 24
COST: $$
BEST BET: Grilled Cheese with Mango, Chicken Chicharrones, Black Bean Stew, Vegetable Curry with Papaya Salad, Elote, Huevos Divorciados, Lemon Ricotta Pancakes, Roasted Organic Chicken Achiote Tostada, Nopaies Tacos, Carnitas Quesadilla, Chips and Salsa
REVIEW #1040

Sophia's Place Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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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13 Comments on “Sophia’s – Albuquerque, New Mexico”

  1. Oops, I was remiss in dropping in the attribution though I was more interested in what others on this blog thought about Guy Fieri not the reasons the author listed in his article.

    To me, I never really paid attention to Fieri largely because I preferred the old format on The Food Channel. Less game show and more culinary skills instruction. (Attribution mine, though this is the first time I’ve used it so a search query won’t help).

    I don’t know a whole lot about Fieri, other than he opened a few restaurants in the Sacramento Metro area (Johnny Garlic’s?) and still has them plus his Vegas one. His infamous one in Times Square closed after five years I believe.

    He sure came out of nowhere (it seemed to me) and shot to fame on TV as kind of a Sammy Hagar of Road Food (attribution mine, though this is the first time I’ve used it so again a search query won’t help).

    Fieri’s Billy Idol get-ups and methamphetamine-pacing of his shows (attribution mine, though again this is the first time I’ve used it so a search query won’t help) is off-putting.

    At the end of the day, (attribution Australian colloquialism) perhaps it’s just generational prejudice that explains my distaste for Fieri since I fell in love with food from watching Emeril Lagasse, Anthony Bourdain, even the Galloping Gourmet, Graham Kerr. Now that dates me older than a bone flute (simile mine, though this is the first time I’ve used it so again a search query won’t help).

  2. ​~ Serendipitously, ran across this Dude http://tinyurl.com/y4c4t8ck looking over Dennis’ shoulder at an “Olde” place. Hopefully, this gives the uninitiated, a more “intimate” peek at what Dennis’ culinary “flair” is all about. (Not to mislead, that site has closed on 4th which is now across from a Sonic!)
    ~ RE Sarita woulda got a Grilled Cheese Sangwich also! Indeed! Alas, as we agreed before, Dennis needs a webpage. While I don’t need more attention, I do find it helps to get an email from Anja of Blade’s https://bladesbistro.com/index.htm updating me in terms of what’s Especial on their upcoming weekend as I’d not otherwise check out their website which however is most informative in recommending it to Newbies.

    1. Bob, a question, from bleached hair to bowling shirts, Guy Fieri is, without a doubt, one of the most hated celebrity chefs of all time. He had a decade-long feud with Anthony Bourdain, who once, quipped, “Fieri looks like something out of The Simpson’s.” But what exactly do you think it is, Bob, that causes droves of people to disdain the seemingly happy-go-lucky guy in the first place? Perhaps Becky has an answer?

  3. The Cali Burrito with Pork Pibil looks awesome. I used to go to Sophie’s on 4th as regularly as the sun rises and the Lobos football team loses but lost track of Dennis in a desert dustup of his peregrinations.

    I could go on and describe the many delectations I enjoyed at Sophie’s (duck tacos!), but I’d prefer to use my limited time here on the podium to address what I perceive are New Mexicans misunderstanding of the Mission Burrito.

    You mention, my dear roving gourmand, “the boring and dry Frisco area rice.” I’ll let the “Frisco” reference pass by as hopefully you are award of how San Franciscans regard that moniker. Look at my previous comments regarding San Franciscans’ touchy, politically-correct linguistic sore spots.

    The cylindrical god, as the burrito is known in the Mission District south of Market Street in “Frisco,” emerged onto the mainstream menu out of a Chicano culture that has a wrapped desire for assimilation around a deep sense of exile. A Mission Burrito starts with large flour tortilla, steamed on a press not unlike a shirt in a laundromat. Then it’s filled egg roll-style with Mexican rice, beans (black, pinto, sometimes refried), salsa, and some chopped or shredded meat (carnitas, grilled or stewed chicken, or carne asada).

    LA Times food critic Jonathan Gold once called Mission Burritos “monstrous things wrapped in tinfoil, and filled with what would seem to be contents of an entire margarita-mill dinner.”

    Like anything in life, it’s about taste and execution. And La Taqueria on Mission Street is the poster boy for taste and execution. The striking features of its Mission Burrito includes NO rice and a wet interior, the latter owed in large part to the former. On opening day, the owner’s mother had volunteered to make rice, but the owner-son said no, inspired by a tasting he had done the day before. “The day before,” he said, we put the grill on and the meat tasted so good, like real meat. That’s why I decided not to mess around with the flavor or use rice.”

    La Taqueria has been in the Mission since 1973 and I ate there more times than I could count when I worked in the Mission District in the ’90s. Well, the Mission Burrito became a product model for all the chain burrito chains (think Chipolte) which meant a big, hunky, presto log-sized burrito swaddled in tin foil, but trust me, there are taquerias in the Mission District of “Frisco” that are committed to quality not profit that would make Jonathan Gold turn in his grave. Which raises the question, if there is a heaven, do they serve burritos Mission District style?

  4. Ya know, while it’s interesting and appreciated to read Y’all as Gil’s contributing Commentors, it is as interesting to meet Folks as well. Indeed I had that OP yesterday at Sophia’s Place that Dennis honchos over under the guiding eye of his welcoming Mom, hosting.
    Alas, I had the chance then to meet the plugged-in/affable Sarita who is appreciated per being a regular Commentor of the Scene as well as being one of the few women herein…which is a mystery to me despite I suffer obvious stereotypes.
    Elsewise, altho I’m basically an evening diner, I also enjoyed 1 Lemony Ricotta Pancake…to me, a “light-hearted”, tasty luncheon treat which fortunately happened to be on the extra Today’s Menu. Indeed, I’m thinking the colors of the berries, as seen in actuality, might be more vivid than those pictured which I enjoyed. (Dang it!, unless I overlooked it on the menu, I missed the Grilled Cheese.)

    1. Yo, Bob! It was great to meet you as well. I don’t think you overlooked the grilled cheese sandwich on the specials menu because I think I woulda snapped that up as well. Though I confess, I had forgotten all about that sandwich until I revisited this review. Hopefully Dennis will have it on the menu again, served with those delightful shoestring fries! And scallop tacos!

  5. If I may be sooo gauche!!? Please whop Dennis up side the head that even I, as a dinosaur, am into a little bit of internet schtick! Suggest that he get a little “connected” so I can pre-view what my Daughters might expect/choose while meeting with them for a Breakfast-with-G-Paw in February at MIXX!!!! Geesh! I have a niece just up the street who I could let know as a banking VP of da place, but Dennis shleps along without a website.

    1. Yes!!! Well said, BOTLVR. I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels this way! It’s easier more than ever to have an online presence. At least get a Facebook page and post the menu there! Sheesh!

    2. It’ll never happen. More than any chef I know, Dennis marches to the beat of his own drum. His approach to branding and marketing (let others blow his trumpet while he focuses on his cooking) is antithetical to that of other chefs who focus more on self-promotion than they do their menus. I attempt to explain this paradox in my review of Eli’s Place. He really is a different dude, but don’t mistake his modesty for lack of passion. Visit his restaurant and more than likely, he’ll be the one preparing your meal…and if he’s not behind the stove, he conceptualized and refined the dish to his exacting standards before placing it on the menu. Speaking of Sophia’s menu, it’s constantly evolving and changing. Every day includes a few surprises.

  6. We took a flier and went by on a Friday evening, but no joy. Restaurant was dark — no theme dinner. Here’s hoping the place will be open for night crawlers soon.

    1. My apologies, Glenn. Sophia’s Place isn’t doing their theme dinners every week. Dennis told me this morning that the next scheduled event is Friday, June 8th when Sophia’s will present an Ensenada (tentative name) menu of ceviche and other fresh Mexican seafood offerings. The following Friday he’s planning a Southern menu with fried catfish and barbecue. It’s always best to call ahead to find out if and what Dennis is planning although you can certainly bet it’ll be wonderful.

  7. So glad to know about this. Thanks, Gil – I have missed Sophia’s in the valley. Can’t wait to visit soon.

  8. My duck enchilada was as good as ever. Can’t wait until Dennis gets Scallop Tacos back on the menu.

    Highly inventive outrageously delicious food. This is still unique stuff.

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