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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
5935 Wyoming, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 9 February 2019
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Avocado Toast, Dos Hermanos, Grilled Elote, Carne Adovada Plate