Albuquerque City Limits – Albuquerque, New Mexico
“It’s when I reach the city limits that my sense of security ends and my sense of adventure begins.”
~Anthony T. Hincks
Author: Verbs in Storyland
Why is it the term “city limits” conjures the same type of trepidation today that very early (before the Third Century BC) explorers must have felt when they thought the Earth was flat and if they navigated too far west, they’d fall off the edge of the map? Why is it Hollywood has consistently portrayed the area just beyond city limits as either a dystopian wasteland or a bastion of lawless libertinage? For that matter, why do so many “inner city” Duke City dwellers believe the city limits is too far a distance to travel for a good meal?
Think I’m kidding? When I told friends and colleagues about having discovered one of the state’s very best green chile cheeseburgers in the South Valley, their typical reactions were “only you would go that far for a burger” and “why didn’t you just go a little further and eat at The Owl.” You’d think I had trekked to South America, not the South Valley. You’d think I had risked life and limb. Perhaps the South Valley of their imaginations and memories is not the South Valley of today. It’s still somewhat rural and more agricultural than any part of the city, but there’s a lot of modern infill, too…as well as some pretty good dining opportunities all culinary explorers should visit.
My friends and colleagues are not unique in taking distance into account when deciding where to eat. It’s been shown statistically that most diners do not venture very far away from their regularly beaten, regularly eaten path. Statista, an online statistics, market research and business intelligence portal, revealed that distance from home to a restaurant was the second most important factor (behind only food quality) when choosing a restaurant. Conversely, the lowest rated factors were recommendations from friends and online recommendations (unless they come from Gil’s Thrilling…). Another online source indicates the average distance from home or place of employment to a favorite restaurant is less than eight miles.
But come on! If a superb green chile cheeseburger isn’t sufficient enticement, would you venture ten miles further than usual for creamy, decadent natillas priced just right? Magellan would have. Marco Polo would have. So would Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca. Heck, they would have ventured there just for the sense of adventure. Okay, “right priced” means the natillas are free to first time visitors of the City Limits Restaurant, but even at full price (about three-dollars), they’re worth the drive from anywhere in the metropolitan area.
True to its name, the City Limits Restaurant is pretty close to the sprawling city’s southernmost limits. It resides in a pretty homogeneous shopping center on the intersection of Coors and Rio Bravo. The City Limits has been serving the Duke City…or at least those of us who venture outside our comfort zones, since 1999. That’s twenty years of doing things right. Among other things done right is service. Sure, you’ve got to walk up to the counter to place your order, but the staff is very friendly and accommodating. You won’t find an empty coffee mug on the premises. Another of those things done right is breakfast being served all day long. Right, too, is the menu, a compendium of deliciousness.
That menu is replete with New Mexico comfort food–including red or green enchiladas, carne adovada, tacos and tostadas as well as chicken fried steak and meatloaf–served in generous portions. At half-a-pound each, burgers are twice the size of the Quarter Pounder and they’re served with your choice of steak house fries, a side salad or housemade potato salad. You can also have your burger on a tortilla or sopaipilla. Chicken sandwiches, deli sandwiches and burritos round out a bounty as alluring as the seven cities of gold were to Francisco Vázquez de Coronado.
28 June 2019: There are eleven burgers on the menu, each one an invitation to enjoyment. All burgers are topped with lettuce, tomato onion and mustard. They’re hand-pressed and prepared to your exacting degree of doneness. The green chile cheeseburger is a picture-perfect exemplar of New Mexico’s most sacrosanct sandwich, and it takes two hands to handle this beefy behemoth between sesame seed buns. The beef is fresh and well seasoned, the green chile roasted and piquant. The steak fries are also prepared to order. They’re crispy on the outside and soft and tender inside.
28 June 2019: As for the free to first-time visitors natillas, if you’re not already preparing for a trip to the South Valley, you’re going to miss out on an addictive treat. These natillas are in rarefied air as some of the very best in a state that prepares natillas better even than Spain. The secret, my server, explained is constant stirring. That’s evinced in a creaminess that’s entirely devoid of those annoying little lumps you find in arroz-con-leche. A generous sprinkling of cinnamon lends an intoxicating aroma and warming qualities that temper the sweetness of the natillas.
28 February 2020: Every year on Holy Thursday at about 7PM, by brothers would set off on the 25-mile pilgrimage to the Santuario De Chimayo, a torturous walk through winding roads that climb and descend precipitously. They would arrive home the next day thoroughly exhausted. Too exhausted, it turned out, to enjoy my mom’s traditional Good Friday lunch of tortas de huevo. That left more for me. Tortas de huevo are a traditional Lenten dish typically served on Fridays when New Mexican Catholics are expected to abstain from meat. Moreover, they’re absolutely delicious. Picture a sort-of egg fritter whipped into a light, fluffy texture and fried then topped with red chile. Five or six of these eggy chile delivery vehicles with pinto beans and calabasitas and there’s no way you can bemoan the fact that you didn’t have a single hamburger on a Lenten Friday.
On Ash Wednesday and every Friday during Lent in 2020, City Limits serves torta de huevo with calabasitas and frijoles (pinto beans), preparing them nearly as well as my mom did. The calabacitas (sautéed zucchini, onions and corn) make me wish Lent lasted longer than forty days. They’re fresh, crisp and delicious. Thankfully pinto beans are an everyday dish in New Mexico, not just one served only during Lent. For good measure, City Limits adds a sopaipilla to this Lenten bounty though my disappointment was probably palpable in seeing a plastic squeeze bottle of honey-flavored syrup.
28 February 2020: Ella Fitzgerald and Louie Armstrong lamented “You like potato and I like potahto. You like tomato and I like tomahto.” Northern New Mexicans tell our less cultured Southern brethren “You say sopa. I say capirotada.” By any name (City Limits calls it “sopa“), this unique bread pudding is one of my very favorite desserts during, before and after Lent. One of the things that makes sopa unique is the use of aged or savory cheese. It’s a nice counterbalance to the sweet syrup in which the bread is soaked. City Limits uses feathered cheddar which is shredded, but not to a fine degree. It’s a great melting cheese which helps make sopa an outstanding bread pudding. My friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate and an expert on bread pudding, would love it.
The ABQ City Limits Restaurant in the South Valley should evoke a spirit of adventure in all culinary explorers. Not only should you explore a menu replete with delicious options, you should spend some time in one of the city’s most beautiful areas.
ABQ City Limits Restaurant
3211 Coors Blvd, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 28 February 2020
1st VISIT: 28 June 2019
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger with Fries, Natillas, Torta De Huevos with Calabasitas, Sopa