Cantina Nueva – Garduños – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Cantina Nueva on Wyoming

Garduños just can’t seem to keep up with the Joneses, at least in terms of familial propagation. The 2010 United States Census indicates more than a million instances (1,425,470 to be precise) of the surname Jones, making it the fifth most common among the 6.3 million surnames recorded. In comparison, the surname Garduño belonged to only 6,912 individuals, ranking it as the 5073rd most common surname under the spacious skies. Almost 93 percent of the individuals answering to the surname Garduño listed their ethnicity as Hispanic or Latino.

It’s inherent in possessing a relatively scarce name that my Kim and I are often asked if we’re related to other people sporting that mellifluous patronym, usually Dave Garduño and his family who founded the Garduño’s dynastic restaurant empire. While there’s a strong likelihood we shared a common ancestor several generations ago, there is no shared direct family line. Call us cousins several times removed.

Salsa and Chips

Maybe because our surname is so uncommon, our eyes and ears perk up whenever the name Garduño is uttered or we see in print. That probably wouldn’t be the case if our surname was Jones. We were certainly excited to hear a new Garduño’s restaurant enterprise had launched in Albuquerque, a sort of “distant relative pride” that shared surnames bring. Never mind that the new concept, called Cantina Nueva – Garduño’s, is owned by Southwest Brands, a group of local investors who bought Garduño’s during a 2011 Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation. What matters is that Southwest Brands is committed to preserving and building on top of what the Garduño family accomplished, a tremendous legacy which brought credit to the esteemed name Garduño.

Cantina Nueva – Garduño’s opened its doors in late September, 2018, fittingly at the height of the chile harvesting and roasting season. Situated in the north end of the North Towne Plaza shopping center (on Wyoming between Academy and Cubero), the restaurant offers a unique take on classic New Mexican dishes. My paternal grandmother, a Garduño for nearly sixty years, would have considered some of those takes heretical. “What the #$%*&! is jackfruit?,” she would have asked. Ditto for watermelon radish, meyer lemon oil, avocado toast and other ingredients and items prominent on Cantina Nueva’s menu.

Grilled Elote

Not every item on the menu would be unrecognizable to my grandmother. In fact, the menu includes a lot of traditional New Mexican dishes with which she would have been intimately familiar—dishes such as carne adovada, enchiladas and burritos. Frankly, you can get those at almost every New Mexican restaurant in the state. We visited Garduño’s for the “not so traditionally New Mexican” dishes—for appetizers such as avocado toast, shrimp ceviche tostada and carne bruschetta. We visited for street tacos stuffed with such “viva la differencia” proteins such as chile glazed pork belly, tri-tip, tempura avocado and…jack fruit carnitas. Yes, we also visited because of that glorious surname.

While we pondered the intriguing menu, our server ferried a complimentary basket of chips and salsa to our table. The Garduño’s family of restaurants remains one of a dwindling number of restaurants which still don’t charge for chips and salsa. That alone should warrant a visit, especially since the salsa has both a nice bite and a great flavor. Its heat is derived from jalapeños with a little Mexican oregano lending a slightly bitter robustness. The chips are lightly salted triangles of corn flavored deliciousness.

Avocado Toast

The Washington Post believes “avocado toast has come to define what makes food trends this decade: It’s healthy and yet ever-so-slightly indulgent.” Toast has become the canvas for an arsenal of creative options, limited only by the imagination of the chef. Where everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow to four-star chefs once extolled the virtues of avocado toast, today the avocado toast trend seems almost passé—at least everywhere but New Mexico which has been characteristically late to the party. Thank goodness for that. Cantina Nueva’s version of avocado toast (avocado, watermelon radish, jalapeño, bacon, arugula, heirloom tomatoes, avocado vinaigrette, Meyer lemon oil) is among the very best we’ve ever had (an assessment shared by the Alibi’s talented Robin Babb). It’s everything that has made avocado toast a trend-setting dish. More than anything else, it’s what’ll bring us back to Cantina Nueva.

You can’t discuss trends without a mention of grilled elote which has evolved from simple Mexican grilled street corn to an elevated form of handheld deliciousness. Restaurants such as El Cotorro imported the grilled elote trend to the Duke City. Cantina Nueva is helping ensure the trend sticks around though its grilled elote (corn-on-the-cob, chipotle aioli, Parmesan, Cotija cheese, cilantro) is probably a bit too messy to eat while walking around. You’ll want to haunch over a table so the juicy, messy bits don’t get all over your clothing (though you can’t avoid a bit of an aioli-cheese goatee). You can always change your clothing. You can’t always get grilled elote this good.

Dos Hermanos

Cantina Nueva’s menu features nine platos (entrees), all served with your choice of two sides. Save for Mexican specialties Pollo Monterey and Chicken Mole Enchiladas, the platos are a medley of traditional New Mexican entrees. Dos Hermanos (one stuffed sopaipilla and one stuffed chile relleno with your choice of chicken or beef, red or green chile and beans and rice) pairs two traditional favorites. While this combination isn’t the most photogenic example of restaurant plating you’ll ever see, it certainly tastes better than it photographs.

The dress Katy Perry wore at the 2017 Grammys probably has more esthetic appeal than the carne adovada plato (pork marinated in red chile, Cheddar cheese, corn cake, tortillas, beans and rice) my Kim ordered, but appearance aside, it’s a good (not great) rendition of carne adovada. Refrain from making it rain cheese (maybe the first time ever I’ve complained about too much cheese) and more chile than just what was used as a marinade are easy fixes. We were happy to see the famous Garduño’s corn cake on the plate. It’s been a Garduño’s standard since “cousin” Dave launched his first restaurant on Garduño street.

Carne Adovada Plate

In its annual “Hot Plate Awards” edition for 2019, Albuquerque the Magazine bestowed a well-deserved award to Cantina Nueva for its “hot mac & cheese.”  “It takes precision, quality and a certain unique flair to earn a Hot Plate Award” and the tri-tip green chile macaroni & cheese has “shown all those traits, and then some.”

Cantina Nueva pairs an interesting and innovative mix of new New Mexican dishes with traditional favorites sure to please all of us who have frequented Garduño’s restaurants for generations.

Cantina Nueva
5935 Wyoming, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 9 February 2019
COST: $$
BEST BET: Avocado Toast, Dos Hermanos, Grilled Elote, Carne Adovada Plate
REVIEW #1095

4 thoughts on “Cantina Nueva – Garduños – Albuquerque, New Mexico

  1. Personal/direct blood line ancestry aside, I’d be over to the cantina or elsewhere in a heartbeat if Gil’s Xtimes removed cousin Teresa would be back doing her “front of the house” cordiality…OMG, its been 5 years(?) since Chile Rio “plated” it’s authentic dishes! It’s idiotic, unless I missed one, no venue hereabouts have scooped her up for her affableness (OK…she’s kinda cute too) and wherewithall in “working a room”. Anyone can show you a table and certainly Y’all can find a table on your own, but a Professional Hostess (aka in days of old: Maitre ‘d) can make all the difference in getting you back to that table…especially if the vittles/service had tanked on a rare occasion. (Alas/blush…it goes without saying: ahem….maybe it was just all about me at CR!!!)

  2. The fastest way to solve the mystery of a Garduño connection, Gil, is to spit in a cup and send it into AncestryDNA. For today only they are running a Valentine’s Day special of just $59. You will not only discover your ethnicity and who your ancestors were and where they came from, your spit will be in the NSA database and available to track you down should you and Kim dine and dash some day.

    Speaking of dining (not dashing) and DNA, I was recently asked by a longtime friend who is equal parts inquisitive and annoying, this question (over more than one glass of wine): “If there’s DNA in all living things, then when a person eats carne adovada, does the pig’s DNA show up in his or her DNA?

    My friend has a very good wine cellar and besides being annoying he is very generous in sharing his collection, so I decided to exhibit uncharacteristic patience with him and replied I didn’t have an answer but had a cousin with a Phd in microbiology who might know.

    He did. He said when a person digests a carne adovada his of her DNA breaks down the non-human DNA (read: pig) into smaller molecules, which are reassembled by our cells and get restrung together to form strands of DNA identical to the DNA already in our cells. In other words, we personalize a carne adovada and make it our own.

    All of which is to say, we should take comfort in the scientific fact that Cantina Nueva’s messy, unaesthetic presentation of Carne Adovada gets mercifully restrung into an orderly, aesthetic presentation within each and everyone of us. Bon Appetit!

    1. AncestryDNA returned some surprising results about my family tree. It turns out I’m descended from royalty (Burger King) with a mix of Labradoodle, Neanderthal and 1/1024 Cherokee blood for good measure.

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