“Well, there’s not a taco big enough for a man like me
That’s why I order two or three
Let me give you a tip, just try a nacho chip
It’s really good with bean dip.”
~Weird Al Yankovic – Taco Grande
Philosophers and scholars have long pondered just what Rodin’s The Thinker was thinking about. Okay, some people were probably wondering why he was naked, but mostly we wondered what deep philosophical ruminations occupied his mind. Theories abound. Was he contemplating the meaning of life? Musing about what is truth? I have my own theory. I believe The Thinker was wondering why the heck anyone would eat at Taco Bell when there are so many better options–especially in New Mexico. From the look of utter perplexity on his face, he had to be wondering why around half the population of the United States visits a Taco Bell once every eleven days.
It would be easy to make this essay an indictment against American culture for “heading for the border” but wouldn’t it be a better tact to lavish praises on Albuquerque’s phenomenal independent taquerias, several of which have been recently reviewed on Gil’s Thrilling… That’s what The Thinker would have done. Then he would have dressed in his taco eating finery and headed to Dia De Los Takos or to El Cotorro or to any of an increasing number of terrific taquerias across the Duke City. Albuquerque’s taco culture may not yet rival that of our neighbors in Texas–at least in terms of numbers–but for sheer deliciousness and inventiveness, I’d stack our tacos up against those of any city!
My confidence in Albuquerque’s burgeoning taco culture was bolstered by our inaugural visit to Don Choche Tacos Y Cerveza. Don Choche isn’t a new kid in the block. It’s been around for eleven years, but only recently (March, 2019) did it transition from mobile food kitchen (that’s food truck to you, Bob) to a brick-and-mortar operation. Don Choche’s new home on North 4th should be familiar to those of you who frequented Fresh Bistro where Chef Jon Young once plied his formidable skills. In addition to being a traditional sit-down restaurant, the location has an expansive dog-friendly patio under the shade of stately deciduous trees. In 2021, Don Choche made the patio a more comfortable haven for everyone with a mural-enclosed wall that shields diners from wind and sun.
Those of you conversant in Spanish might recognize that “Choche” is slang for “Jorge” just as “Nacho” is slang for Ignacio and “Pancho” is slang for Francisco. Choche, in this case, is Jorge Samaniego, the affable owner who operates Don Choche with his family and a very accommodating and attentive staff. The mobile food kitchen will continue to prowl the mean streets of Albuquerque while the restaurant opens early for breakfast and remains open late into the evening.
Though “tacos y cerveza” sounds rather limited, the restaurant’s menu is actually quite expansive. Unlike some of the inventive fusion taco restaurants in Albuquerque, Don Choche holds true to Mexican taco traditions. That means corn tortillas and tacos served with cilantro, onions, radish and limes (lettuce, tomato and cheese are optional). Possibilities abound. You can order your tacos with your choice of asada (beef), tripitas (tripe), red chile brisket, fish (fried cod), ham and cheese, chile relleno, chicharron en salsa, verde (pork grinds), barbacoa (shredded beef), green chile brisket, carnitas (pork), carne adovada, shrimp, bean and cheese or chicken. Those very same options can also be used to construct huge (twelve-inch tortillas) burritos, tortas, quesadillas, handmade gorditas and even nachos.
That’s not all. The menu also offers huge asada fries, flautas, tostadas, asada and brisket burgers and molcajetes by the pound. Breakfast burritos and breakfast plates give you another reason to get up early while dinner plates offer multi-item options sure to please. Don Choche’s burgers aren’t just a conventional all beef patty creation. One of the giant burgers comes with “a huge pile of asada on top” while the other is adorned with “a load of green chile brisket.” That’s meat upon meat, sure to please all of us with a carnivorous bent. Oh, there’s a dessert menu, too and it’s as tempting as the entrees.
13 January 2022: You’ll want to start with a trip or eight to the fresh salsa bar where an endorphin-generating treasure trove of salsas may prove addictive. We didn’t find a dud among the six we tried–green chile, chile de arbol, tomatillo, pico de gallo, chile piquin and chipotle–and had to replenish our basket of red and yellow chips twice. Every one of the salsas bites back with the vengeance of high Scoville unit potency, especially the chile de árbol (literally tree chile). Even the chipotle and tomatillo salsas, both tempered with sour cream, were pleasantly piquant. Two new favorites are rarities in the Duke City salsa scene. One is a pineapple salsa with a fiery temperament and the sweet tanginess of pineapple. The other is a peanut (cacahuate) salsa which originates in the Mexican state of Puebla and has yet to catch on in the fruited plain.
27 July 2019: Not knowing what to expect in terms of portion size, we ordered a quesadilla (two ten-inch tortillas with your choice of filling, cilantro, onion, salsa, crema and cheese) as an appetizer. Our choice of meat was the intriguing green chile brisket. It wasn’t the most aesthetically-pleasing quesadilla we’ve ever had, but for sheer delight and deliciousness, few quesadillas even come close. To put it mildly, the green chile brisket is spectacular–tender tendrils of shredded brisket infused with a smoky green chile of medium piquancy. My Kim enjoyed hers with crema while my choice was the chipotle salsa.
27 July 2019: Knowing we’d most certainly be taking much of our entree home, we shared a carne adovada molcajete (one-pound of homemade carne adovada served with twelve corn tortillas, cilantro, onions, salsa and a bowl of beans. A molcajete is essentially a seasoned stone mortar meticulously carved out of a single rock of vesicular basalt by a skilled artisan. Not only are they esthetic, they are highly functional, used for crushing and grinding spices and as serving vessels. That’s how Don Choche uses them. Our molcajete was brimming with carne adovada, shredded pork marinated in chile piquin. While most New Mexican carne adovada is relatively mild in terms of piquancy, this one bites like an angry wasp. We overfilled the fresh corn tortillas with the adovada, crafting terrific tacos. The accompanying beans and rice are both quite good, especially the refried beans which are much more soupy than refrieds tend to be.
24 May 2020: English poet Lord Byron once stated that he felt himself “grow savage” when he ate meat. He had no qualms about declaring meat superior to vegetables as he did in writing about Don Juan: “Although his anatomical construction bears vegetables, in a grumbling way, Your laboring people think beyond all question, beef, veal, and mutton better for digestion.” Your own savage inclinations might just surface when Don Choche’s brisket burger (beef patty, avocado, green chile, cheese and “a load of green chile brisket”) is delivered to your table. This meat-on-meat behemoth will sooth the most savage breast and defeat the most avaricious of appetites. The green chile brisket has smoky properties very similar to your favorite low-and-slow barbecued brisket. Tender tendrils of brisket punctuated by pleasantly piquant green chile make this one of the best burgers in the city. You’ll have to open wide (like Food Network glitterati Guy Fieri) to take a bite, but that’s just part of the savage experience.
24 May 2020: Attired in our personal protective equipment visit and practicing social distancing, we ran into Rafael Alvarez, who along with his two sons owns the fabulous paleteria Pop Fizz. Rafael was positively effusive about the tacos al pastor at Don Choche’s, joking that they’re his “cheat meal” for the week. Even the most faithful among us (and maybe even a few vegetarians) would cheat on our diets with tacos al pastor this good. As with some of the best tacos al pastor you’ll find in the Land of Montezuma, the tortillas are dipped in chile, imbuing them with a pleasant piquancy that complements their deep corn flavor. Chopped cilantro, bits of wonderfully caramelized pineapple and onion are the only other fillings on this taco. The rest is all al pastor which means pineapple marinated pork grilled to perfection. There’s truly something magical about the interplay of sweet pineapple marinated pork and chile marinated tortillas.
24 May 2020: For some reason, tostadas are quite often referred to as “cheap eats” or “sophomore food.” Some people even call them “cheap and easy,” not usually a complimentary term. These open-faced, toasted corn tortilla treasures topped with sundry ingredients should elicit nothing but compliments. Made well, they should be lavished with praise. Made by Don Choche’s, they should have ballads composed and legends told. Quite simply, the tostadas at Don Choche’s are the best we’ve had in New Mexico, better even than those we make at home. Credit the green chile brisket for much of that. My Kim had a rather denuded tostada, topped with brisket, cilantro and onion while your friendly neighborhood blogger enjoyed mine with all the fixings (lettuce, sour cream, chopped tomatoes and shredded cheese). The brisket elevates every ingredient with which it is paired and these are in rarefied air indeed.
13 December 2022: Yeah, I know Corinthians tells us love is not jealous, but doggone it, I’m jealous of my friend Bill Resnik. He’s taller (6’5″), smarter and much funnier (by far) than I am. I’m also envious of his ability to enjoy his favorite foods so often. Maybe it’s because I grew up eating such a limited Northern New Mexican diet (lots of beans, tortillas and chile) that I quickly get bored with food no matter how much I may like it. Bill, on the other hand, discovers a new favorite food and can eat it for weeks on-end without getting tired of it. He recently discovered birria and now craves birria tacos, quesabirria tacos and especially birria ramen. If we had the time we’d blaze a New Mexico birrria trail.
Don Choche would certainly be a stop on such a trail. Although Don Choche doesn’t serve birria ramen, it didn’t surprise me to see a birria burger and shrimp birria tacos on the menu. That’s the type of departure from the culinary norm I like. Bill might try those eventually but first he had to try Don Choche’s birria tacos. Served three to an order, the tacos have the characteristic reddish hue from having been immersed in the consommé. Though not listed as quesabirria (a hybrid of a taco and a quesadilla) these birria tacos certainly qualify as quesabirria. A layer of melted Chihuahua queso sheathes the envelope part of the corn tortillas with tender stewed beef generously filling the rest of that envelope. Bits of that beef aren’t swimming in the consommé as at some restaurants, but we did appreciate the telltale signs that the consommé wasn’t strained for excess fat. Pickled onions and radishes along with two lime slices were served with the tacos.
13 January 2022: One of my cardinal dining rules involves not having two-of-a-kind meals. We don’t, for example, order an appetizer of breadsticks when we’re having pizza or meatballs when we’re having steak. That rule doesn’t necessarily apply for entrees. When we find a great mixed grill or mixed parillada, we tend to order it. Don Choche doesn’t so much mix meats as much as incorporate them. One such example is the brisket burger, a pile of green chile brisket atop a thick burger patty. There’s nothing else on this burger. No mustard, ketchup, mayo, onions, lettuce, tomato, etc. It’s meat on meat and it’s a carnivore’s dream.
Bill and I were thrown aback when studying the menu and espying birria burger. Could it be like Reese’s peanut butter cups and the aforementioned brisket burger–two great tastes that taste great together? That’s precisely what it was: one all beef patty (at least six ounces) topped with Cheddar and a mound of mouth-watering birria. Enough French fries (out of a bag) for an entire family accompanied the burger. Make sure you ask for a side of the consommé. Dipping the burger into the consommé makes a good thing even better. You won’t miss any of the usual condiments. Birria burgers might just become a big thing.
13 January 2022: Could there possibly be any better job than taste tester for Don Choche? Imagine working with the creative culinary genius who dreams up such combinations as brisket burgers and birria burgers. My mouth waters at the prospect of being asked my opinion of all the mix-and-match combinations being contrived in the kitchen. In short order I wouldn’t even question whether any of Don Choche’s wild ingredient combinations would work and take for granted that whatever creativity is dreamed up will be delicious. Bill might not be as recklessly adventurous as I am, but was just as intrigued at the prospect of shrimp birria tacos.
As the name implies, shrimp birria tacos combine fresh shrimp, moist birria and Chihuahua queso inside a corn tortilla envelope that’s been dipped in birria consommé. The shrimp are at the bottom of the corn tortilla envelope which means you’ll have to enjoy quite a bit of birria before you get to the shrimp (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Entire shrimp are used. They have a snap of freshness and blend beautifully with the birria. You might just leave Don Choche’s wondering if there’s anything the chef won’t try and that you won’t enjoy.
27 July 2019: There are several desserts on the menu–chocoflan, cherry or pineapple empanadas, cheesecake, churros, sopaipillas and honey and Kim’s favorite, pastel tres leches. Made with three types of milk (hence the name)–evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and whole milk–this light and spongy cake is an absolute joy. Don Choche’s version is more lightly frosted than other versions we’ve ha in New Mexico, but a generous dollop of housemade whipped cream more than makes up for it. It goes without saying this cake is very moist and creamy. It’s also outstanding.
You’ll do a double-take when you read the cost of the desserts. As of this writing, they’re three dollars a piece. Don’t dare tell your server what a bargain that is or you risk inspiring a price hike. I expected one pineapple empanada for my dessert, not three…and these aren’t small empanadas either. They’re not stuffed quite as generously as we would have liked nor are they as cloying as American turnovers tend to be, but they’re very good.
Recently when my friend Desiree Aguilar admitted to having eaten at Chipotle, I pleaded with her, “please tell me you don’t eat at Taco Bell, too.” She looked at me as if I’d asked if she enjoyed dining at a swine trough. “No! I do not eat at Taco Bell,” she said rather emphatically. We tease Desiree a lot about millennial tastes and preferences even though she’s a rather adventurous diner. She would certainly enjoy Don Choche. So will you!
Don Choche Tacos Y Cerveza
7319 4th Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 13 January 2022
1st VISIT: 27 July 2019
# OF VISITS: 3
BEST BET: Green Chile Brisket Quesadilla, Carne Adovada Molcajete, Tres Leches Cake, Empanadas de Pina, Chips and Salsa, Brisket Burger, Carnitas Burrito, Tacos Al Pastor, Birria Tacos, Birria Burger, Shrimp Birria Tacos