El Patio de Albuquerque – Albuquerque, New Mexico

El Patio on Harvard Avenue

For more than a quarter century, award-winning journalist Charles Kuralt had the type of job any aspiring sojourner would envy. He hit the road on a motor home, crisscrossing the fruited plains where waving fields of wheat passed in review and snow-capped mountains reached for cobalt colored skies. Observing that “thanks to the interstate highway system, it is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything,” Kuralt avoided the interstates, instead traversing America’s back roads and byways in search of real people with interesting stories to tell.

Kuralt loved New Mexico, which he noted in his terrific tome America, is really a misnomer. In his estimation, New Mexico “should be called Precambria for the sea that crashed upon its shores for tens of millions of years, or Mastadonia, for the mammals that later roamed its plains..; or Sandia for the mountain where the camp of an ice age hunter, the earliest known American was found in a cave…New Mexico is old, stupendously old and dry and brown, and wind-worn by the ages.”

Chips, Salsa and Guacamole

Kuralt also loved the cuisine of the Land of Enchantment. In his book America, he declared the Owl Cafe in San Antonio, New Mexico “one of the best food tips” he’d ever gotten. During his peridoc visits to the Duke City, the peripatetic wanderer also frequented Old Town’s La Placita restaurant which he considered one of his favorite feeding stations. In 1988, the legendary newsman featured El Patio in a CBS “Sunday Morning On The Road” segment.

El Patio was then but ten years old, but already becoming a formidable presence in the Duke City dining scene. It was then one of the few New Mexican restaurants in the UNM area, but that wasn’t solely the reason it garnered rave reviews and legions of loyal fans. Discerning UNM students appreciated the authenticity and deliciousness of the food; for many of them, it represented a home away from home where they could get cooking as good or better than mom’s. Those former students have raised a generation, many of whom followed their parents to UNM and to El Patio.

Frito Pie

El Patio is ensconced in a converted home just south of Central Avenue on Harvard Drive. A telltale sign you’ve made it to the popular restaurant on this relatively low traffic drive is the can’t miss Taos blue Mexican picket fence. Beyond the fence lies the patio (El Patio), essentially the entire front yard, which is shaded by tall trees, a welcome respite from the sun’s heating rays. El Patio’s patio also welcomes dogs.

For the duration of its three decade plus, El Patio has been family owned and operated. Founding owners Dave Sandoval (a fellow Taoseño) and wife Gloria Sandoval remain involved, but much of the day-to-day operation has been transitioned over to their progeny, sons Thomas and Christopher who have made some changes, including the addition of a catering service and a sales operation which markets El Patio’s fabulous salsa and green chile. Both can be purchased in the restaurant and at several stores throughout the Duke City.

Carne Adovada Plate (Beans on the Side)

Thomas Sandoval, the elder sibling, is the chef while Christopher is the restaurant’s front-end man. Thomas acquired his culinary skills literally at his maternal grandfather’s apron strings. His grandfather taught him well. El Patio’s food is as good today as it was decades ago when it first blew me out of the water.

Interestingly, El Patio considers itself primarily a vegetarian restaurant, but that distinction isn’t readily apparent in its meat dishes which are as good, if not better, than meat-based New Mexican entrees at other restaurants. Even the most ardent carnivores, however, should at least try the vegetarian entrees which go a long way toward showcasing the delicious versatility of New Mexican cuisine. The restaurant’s vegetarian enchiladas, for example, are made with spinach instead of meat. The spinach imparts a spring-like freshness and healthful, but surprisingly (at least to meatatarians) delicious qualities to the enchiladas. The Frito pie is also meatless, but you won’t miss the meat. It’s one of the best Frito pies in town.

Carne Adovada Taco

Many pundits rank El Patio among the top four or five New Mexican restaurants in Albuquerque, leaving one to wonder if voters on “best of” polls mistakenly stuff the ballots for “El Pinto” when meaning to vote for El Patio which is several orders of magnitude better. You’d think after the “dangling chad” episodes during the 2000 presidential elections in Florida, more extreme care would be taken in the voting process.

Salsa isn’t complementary at El Patio, but it’s worth the paltry pittance for which you pay for it, especially considering the attentive wait staff is on the ball to replenish each ramekin just as you’re running low. The salsa is jalapeno based, but it includes a tinge of red chile powder. In any case, this is a wonderful salsa, some of the very best in the city. This flavorful salsa has a nice piquant bite that will get your attention without dulling your taste buds for your entrees. The accompanying chips are low in salt, crisp and formidable enough to scoop up ample amounts of salsa. In its September, 2012 edition, Albuquerque The Magazine named the salsa at El Patio the seventh best in Albuquerque from among 130 salsas sampled throughout the city.

Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas

30 June 2017: The restaurant’s most popular entree, according to the menu, are the green chile chicken enchiladas. El Patio is so accommodating (one of the main reasons for its popularity), you can have dual meat–beef and chicken–enchiladas and you can have them Christmas style and on blue corn tortillas with the requisite fried egg on top. This best of all worlds approach for one of New Mexican cuisine’s most versatile entrees is my favorite way to have them. The shredded chicken is moist and delicious, prepared to absolute perfection. The beef is ground hamburger, not shredded beef as Mexican restaurants will serve on enchiladas, but the beef is well-seasoned and not refried as some restaurants are apt to do. The red chile is rich and flavorful at about a medium level of piquancy. The green chile has a fresh, fruity taste. Both are par excellence.

31 December 2011: Carne Adovada is available in several dishes, including on a smothered or hand-held burrito. Because the chile with which carne adovada is smothered is oftentimes not the same chile in which the pork is prepared, my Kim will never order a smothered carne adovada burrito. She contends it allows her to better enjoy the purity of the adovada. El Patio’s adovada is outstanding, well worthy of a visit from my friend Ruben Hendrickson whose quest for the perfect carne adovada continued until his passing on 30 May 2016 (I miss you, dear friend). The pork is spoon tender (that means even more tender than fork-tender) and absolutely delicious, a benchmark which competes with some of the very best in the city.

Combination Plate

1 July 2017: El Patio’s combination plate is the best way to introduce newcomers to some of the best the restaurant has to offer. A veritable platter is brimming with two cheese enchiladas engorged with chile, a chile relleno and a taco (thankfully served on a small plate) all topped with shredded Longhorn Cheddar and your choice of chile. Longhorn Cheddar is what makes the cheese enchiladas some of the very best you’ll ever have. It’s a good melting cheese with a nice degree of sharpness and terrific cows’ milk flavor. The chile relleno is especially noteworthy. A single sweet-piquant chile is stuffed with even more of that luscious Longhorn cheese then battered lightly and deep-fried. It’s quite good. So is the taco. Given your choice of carne advocada, chicken or ground beef (all good), opt for the carne adovada. It’s prepared on a hard-shelled corn tortilla that crumbles quickly, but that’s why God invented forks.

Each entree is served with pinto beans (not refried), boiled and peeled potatoes and lots of garnish (lettuce and tomato). The potatoes have a consistency near being mashed. Similar to the boiled potatoes at Duran’s Central Pharmacy, they appear to be an anomaly at first in that they’re not crisply fried, but by your second forkful, you’ll be hooked. The potatoes have a sweet-savory marriage that makes them a joy to eat. The beans are perfectly cooked and absolutely delicious.


1 July 2017: There’s a short list of fajitas on our list as best in the Duke City. Topping our current list are the fajitas at El Patio. Among the many reasons we esteem these so highly is the full half-pound of marinated steak, as tender and flavorful as any fajita beef we’ve ever enjoyed. The marinated steak is hand-cut and sauteed with green and red peppers, mounds of onions, and diced tomatoes. They’re served with guacamole, sour cream, pico de gallo, salsa, a side of potatoes and two flour tortillas (white or wheat). Oh, and there’s plenty of Longhorn cheese, too.

Entrees also include complementary sopaipillas. Large, cloud-like and puffy, they emit wisps of steam as you cut into them to form a pocket for honey. Kudos to El Patio for serving real raw honey, not that aberrational honey-flavored syrup. These sopaipillas are not doughy as some sopaipillas are made, but rather have thin walls that are easy to penetrate, but not so thin that they’re sieves for the honey. If you don’t imbibe adult beverages, the watermelon limeaid is a very nice alternative. It’s more tangy than it is sweet and it’ll quell your thirst on the dog days of summer.


El Patio at Los Ranchos de Albuquerque

25 May 2018: In April, 2018, El Patio launched its second location, this one on the northwest intersection of Rio Grande and Griegos in a location that had previously been home to such stalwarts as Geezamboni’s (which later changed its name to Johndi’s BBQ), Paco’s International Smoked Cuisine and most recently Village Pizza. It’s a familiar milieu with a well-shaded dog-friendly patio our debonair dachshund The Dude enjoyed very much. The menu is also familiar, offering the breakfast, lunch and dinner favorites Duke City diners have enjoyed since 1977.

El Patio’s Second Location, This One on Rio Grande Blvd

25 May 2018: It’s only fitting that a new location be celebrated by trying something new. At least that was my contention. My Kim argued that we should order the tried and true favorites we’ve enjoyed at the Harvard location just to make sure they were prepared the same way. For her that meant carne adovada with a fried egg over easy accompanied by a flour tortilla. For me, it was fish tacos, a Friday only special served with fries, cole slaw, and fire-roasted tomato cilantro salsa. Available fried or seared, your choice, they come two to an order. Frankly, what we enjoyed most about the fish tacos were the fresh corn tortillas and the two salsas. The cole slaw was mostly chopped cabbage and had very little personality. The pan-seared fish were flaky and light, but didn’t stand out.

Fish Tacos, a Friday Special

7 March 2020:  You don’t ordinarily go to a restaurant like El Patio for a burger…no when the menu features some of the best New Mexican cuisine in the city. Not even for a green chile cheeseburger, New Mexico’s sacrosanct sandwich. Alas, curiosity got the better of me. Upon espying a green chile cheeseburger with a ghost pepper Jack or Cheddar cheese option, I had to have it–with the ghost pepper Jack, of course. Ghost pepper, the first pepper to scientifically test over 1 million Scoville unit, is one of the most potent chiles in the world.  That piquancy doesn’t necessarily come across much on El Patio’s burger, even when it’s paired with a ramekin full of New Mexico green chile.  Despite no more heat that most green chile cheeseburgers, there’s much to like about this burger.  First is the grass-fed beef patty, a hand-formed six-ounces of moist, delicious beef.  Then there’s the green chile and there’s lots of it on this burger.  There are no condiments on the burger itself, but you do get onion, lettuce, tomato, mustard and mayo on the side.  What’s not to like is a meager (count them on two hands) amount of out-of-a-bag French fries.  El Patio can certainly do better than this!

Green Chile Cheeseburger with Fries

We’ve found service at El Patio extremely capable and more than accommodating, but then we tend to visit when the restaurant first opens (11AM seven days a week) and the choicest seating is available. Experience has taught us that this extremely popular restaurant fills up quickly–and for good reason. This is one of Albuquerque’s very best New Mexican restaurants, a genuine gem.

El Patio
142 Harvard Dr SE
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 268-4245
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 1 July 2017
COST: $$
BEST BET: Salsa and Chips, Sopaipillas, Beef and Chicken Enchiladas Christmas Style, Carne Adovada Burrito, Chicken Taco, Combination Plate, Carne Adovada Plate, Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas, Watermelon Limeaid, Frito Pie, Fajitas

El Patio de Albuquerque
3851 Rio Grande Blvd, N.W.
Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 433-4499
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 7 March 2020
COST: $$
BEST BET: Salsa and Chips, Carne Adovada, Fish Tacos, Green Chile Cheeseburger

13 thoughts on “El Patio de Albuquerque – Albuquerque, New Mexico

  1. Yeah, it’s terrific and everything comes with a nice vibe. Made a note to get back there soon.

    Think you mean “Owl Cafe,” not “Own Cafe” — or perhaps Mr. Kuralt had yet another secret life, as an eatery owner.

    1. LOL. Thanks for setting me straight, Glenn. At a blazing 17 words per minute it’s a wonder there aren’t more typos.

      BTW, great job on the Hands Free Info site. New Mexico needs to get fully onboard with hands-free initiatives.

  2. Not that it has much of anything to do with the actual restaurant, but Florida’s famous dangling chads were in 2000, not 2008.

  3. Ha,ha. Yes, my UNM student son invited me there a summer or two ago (I picked up the tab, of course). He said it was amazing. He was right. I remember that their food tastes so fresh and light, for something that is typically considered heavy. Unfortunately I didn’t try the adovada. Sounds like a good excuse to go back. Thanks for reminding me of El Patio, Gil. I’m definitely heading back there soon.

  4. Really liked the homey atmosphere of El Patio. Have to say that I wasn’t too impressed by the food, though. I had the green chile chicken enchiladas with blue corn tortillas. The chicken filling was bland and a little dry (seemed like someone boiled breast meat and chopped onions, threw in a pinch of salt, and plated it). I think thigh meat and a more complex spicing could have gone a long way. The side of red beans was also really boring. Seemed like canned beans cooked until almost mushy, un-spiced. Potatoes soaked in spicy green chile were probably the best thing on the plate. Sopapilla with honey was good, as a piece of fried dough dipped in viscous sugar should be.

    I had the same variety of bland chicken filling in the enchiladas at Frontier. I am beginning to see a pattern in ABQ that points to ordering carne adovada (awesome at Frontier, haven’t tried at Patio) over chicken every time.

  5. As a student at UNM 20 years ago I spent A LOT of time at El Patio and it was (apparently still is) one of the best restaurants in Albuquerque. God, I miss that food!

  6. I read your reveiws and you put this resturant under the category of vegetarian and most of these dishes

    have meat in them wich doesn’t please me. So I dont think I wiil be eating there any time soon.

  7. I enjoy El Patios food every time I have a chance to eat there, however I disagree with their decision to not accept credit or debit cards. One time I forgot they only accepted cash and had to use their ATM machine on site adding $5 dollars more to my meal through fees. I would much rather them raise the price of the food 5% to offset what the credit card companies charge them, then to have to mess with the cash only policy. Love the food though.

  8. We ate at El Pation for lunch Monday while vacation in ABQ. Our first new mexican meal. I tried the blue corn bean enchiladas with red and green chile. It was wonderful. Our first taste of the the hot pillowy sopaipillas was fantastic. The wait staff was excellent. Highly recommend this restaurant to first time visitors.

  9. Gil,

    As indicated in a previous email, I gave El Patio a try. This evening, in fact. We are leaving NM for a few days and stopped by on the way to the airport. Both my wife and I were more than pleased with our visit.

    My wife loved the green chile chicken enchiladas which she says are as good as any she has had. My enchiladas with blue corn and meat, smothered in red chile was among the best I have tasted in New Mexico, and therefore, anywhere in the world. What matters most to me with New Mexican food is the chile, which as far as I know is unique worldwide; and the fusion of heat and taste for both the green and red chile at El Patio is superb.

    The prices were reasonable, the service was excellent and the ambiance was UNM. My only complaint would be that the light and pillowy sopaipillas were served luke warm. Perhaps this was an anomaly.

    Thanks for the recommendation.

  10. Gil, I just discovered your website. I am quite impressed. It is really well put together. Plus, I agree with nearly all your recommendations (My main disagreement is Tomasita’s in Santa Fe. I have tried it twice and been disappointed both times. I found the red chile to be mild and without much flavor.)

    Anyway, your website will help me choose places to eat in both ABQ and SFe. El Patio is next on my list.

    I just submitted a comment on The Shed in Santa Fe. I hope lobo59 works for my “name.”

    Thanks for a great web site.

    Bill Robens

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