Gil’s “Best of the Best” for 2019

Mole Enchiladas from La Guelaguetza, Gil’s Thrilling find of the year

With a puff of white smoke emanating from the chimney of the Garduño residence and to the cheers of legions of loyal Gil’s thrilling readers, your friendly neighborhood blogger has finally named the very best of the best for 2019.  These are the dishes I enjoyed most across the Land of Enchantment in 2019, the dozen dishes most indelibly imprinted on my memory engrams…the first dishes that come to mind when I close my eyes and reflect on the past year in eating. As with previous yearly compilations, every item on this list was heretofore unknown to my palate before 2019. Every dish was a delicious discovery from within New Mexico’s sacred borders. In chronological order, my “best of the best” are:

Comedian Rita Rudner once joked that “most turkeys taste better the day after; my mother’s tasted better the day before.” Obviously she had no idea what Chef Nestor Lopez can do with a turkey. His El Chumpe sandwich (Salvadoran pulled turkey in a tomato mole, sliced cucumber and radish, slaw, mango-pineapple-habanero salsa and watercress on a toasted bolillo) is one of several items on the Gobble This menu which could have made this list.

Twice named purveyors of the best food truck burger in the country, Chef Toddzilla’s Gourmet Burgers in Roswell graduated from  food truck to brick-and-mortar restaurant, but retained the severe case of “give a damns” that has endeared them to burger pilgrims across the fruited plain.  The smart ones come for the Smackdown Burger, a masterpiece constructed from chorizo and adorned with a fried egg and green chile.  Even the stoic Mr. Spock would swoon at first bite.

Pecan Daschi Ramen with Smoked Bone Marrow from Oni Noodles in Albuquerque

There are several reasons savvy diners arrive early and stand in line for more than an hour at Mad Jack’s Mountaintop Barbecue in Cloudcroft.  One of those reasons is the brisket, an exemplar of moist, juicy, tender deliciousness with a pronounced smoke ring and a bark that’s pure meat candy.  For many of us Cloudcroft is closer than Texas and in Mad Jack’s it’s got a barbecue joint as good as any you’ll find in the Lone Star state.

Iron Chef Masuharu Morimoto quips that “one way to make it slightly healthier is to leave the soup and just eat the noodles.”  If you did that you’d miss out on the transformative pecan daschi ramen with smoked bone marrow from Oni Noodles in Albuquerque.  if you remember the elation you felt when you first fell in love with ramen, you’ll relive it all over again with what could very well be the best ramen in the Land of Enchantment.

Fiery fried chicken from Firebird Nashville Hot Chicken in Albuquerque

One definition for masochism is “deriving pleasure from pain.”  That definition fits Duke City diners who have fallen in love with the “really clucking hot” fried chicken at FireBird Nashville Hot Chicken.  Not all diners can handle that level of heat, but most New Mexicans should have no problem with just regular “hot.”  At any degree of heat, Nashville hot chicken creates an endorphin rush similar to New Mexican chile, but it’s not all about heat here.  The chicken is moist, tender and addictive.

Resplendent KOAT morning anchor Royale Da could probably urge her legion of loyal viewers to snack on chapulines (grasshoppers) and we’d run out to the fields to catch a few.  So, when she declared the Shop Burger from The Shop her very favorite burger, it was a given that we’d rush out and try one…or ten.  The Shop Burger (two fresh ground patties, mustard, jalapeño mayo, chopped green chile, Tillamook Cheddar, caramelized onions and housemade pickles on a locally baked fresh bun) is the very best burger in Albuquerque and among the top three burgers in New Mexico.  Thank you, Royale.

The Shop Burger with Fries from Albuquerque’s The Shop

In less than two years of operating Malageña’s Latin Tapas Javier and Molly Montaño earned the Local Heroes award from Edible New Mexico in recognition of the state’s best food truck.  Today, the Montaños are enthralling diners with exquisite tapas at the Vara Winery & Distillery.  Even without an on-premises kitchen, the Montaños create such pure deliciousness as Panzanella Salad with Steak, an ingenious melding (particularly garam-macerated tomatillos) of cultures and ingredients.  It’ll blow you away.

If ever there was a restaurant whose very name evokes Pavlovian reactions, it’s Need a Pita.  You’re probably drooling right now thinking about how great it would be to sink your teeth into a warm, fluffy pita maybe stuffed with green chile schwarma or as a side with the best babaganoosh in the city.  Owners Alex and Neda Abweh are the consummate hosts.  Trust them to guide you through a delicious Middle East dining adventure you won’t soon forget.

A Pool of Ganache Surrounds Cioccolato Bianco from Sassella in Santa Fe

Helen Keller, the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree, sagely advised “Life is short and unpredictable. Eat the dessert first!” Though she would have loved the utter indulgent deliciousness of the Cioccolato Bianco(a white chocolate dome, banana pudding gelato with Italian Chantilly, dark chocolate ganache with caramelized pistachios over berries) from Sassella in Santa Fe, she would sadly have missed out on the visual thrill of seeing it created.  This is a dessert no one should miss.  It was truly one of the most magnificent desserts we’ve enjoyed in many a year. 

At the risk of being skewered myself, I’ll put Tanzanian mishkaki skewers against any other skewered meat dish in the world…at least the way they’re prepared at the Safari Grill.  Each moist and tender skewer is imbued with the distinctive flame-kissed flavors and the exotic spices that confirm Marco Polo’s journey was worth it.  My friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver and I enjoyed more meals at the Safari Grill than we did at any other restaurant, in every case letting Shaina, the restaurant’s radiant ambassador guide our culinary journey to an exotic cuisine.

Marinated Steak Mishkaki from Safari Grill in Albuquerque

Savvy diners will live everyday like it’s Taco Tuesday.  In doing so, we live each day full of appreciation and a genuine sense of joy and gratitude.  Joy and gratitude are the two sentiments that come immediately to mind when reflecting on all the transcendent tacos I enjoyed at Dia De Los Tacos. Genius chef Dominic “Dom” Valuenzuela’s creativity knows no bounds when it comes to creating tacos which pop with flavor and ingredient combinations that are bold and brash yet sophisticated and refined.  It would be impossible to single out just one taco for “best of the best” recognition.  They’re all “best” caliber.

“Find of the year” and “best bite” honors go to La Guelaguetza, a South Valley gem that celebrates the incomparable cuisine of Oaxaca.  The latter honor goes to the enchiladas with mole (moist shredded chicken enrobed in corn tortillas and topped with your choice of mole).  After having enjoyed these enchiladas twice, I have yet to figure out which of the three moles-–mole negro, mole picoso and mole Oaxaqueño–is my favorite.  It’s also entirely possible there are dishes on the menu even better, but the enchiladas are so good, it may take a while before I try anything else.  These enchiladas are enchanting!

Please feel free to share your own “best of the best” New Mexico dining choices for 2019 by commenting to this post. Who knows? Maybe next year they’ll make it to my list, too.  

Gil’s “Best of the Best”: 2021 |  2020 | 2019 | 2018 |2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 |

15 thoughts on “Gil’s “Best of the Best” for 2019

  1. Hey Gil,

    What a tour de force! You have helped me add some more restaurants to my food list. Thank you for all these ideas.

    Happy eating!
    ~ Alonna

  2. Boy do I love eating out in Albuquerque. I’m amazed how many wonderful little restaurants to dine at, too many for my budget! As a big supporter of local restaurants I feel like I’m in foodie heaven.

    1. What a great observation, Paul. Albuquerque IS blessed with many wonderful dining opportunities and is indeed a foodie heaven. I hope we hear from you more often on the great restaurant discoveries you come across.

  3. Alas, I’m flummoxed by the, some might say, flagrant use of ‘food truck’ scattered several times throughout Gil’s Year End: Best of Best Food DayDreams, in lieu of ‘Mobile Kitchen’. One can’t but help to feel punked especially since the Foot Long (NM Red) Chile Cheese Dog con Onions of The Dog House did not make the reverie!
    ~ To All: Prospero Nuevo Ano…
    PS: In terms of New Year’s Resolution making: Might we ask Kim & Bob of Forghedaboudit to consider Resolving to someday do a Pop-Up Eatery in ABQ?

    1. I’ve been asked about that a hundred times, if we had the people to stick w me and have the passion I’d love to. Our new Picacho Hills LasCruces location will be running soon and will be slammed for a while. So this will absorb all my time.
      I will entertain all offers to do a Forghedaboudit in Albuquerque so anyone interested should seek me out. I’m easy to track down.
      Happy New Year to all.

      1. Indeed I think I hear ya Bob Pizzachamp. My naive impression is that so many places fail because they fall in love with themselves and get seduced by the Siren of if one is good, 6 right away must be better. In any event lest you might, down the road, do an ABQ Pop-Up (lest some might not yet know: ) perhaps you might check with the Culinary Program of as a workforce resource. [I don’t know where CNM’s is today, but I was impressed back in the ’70s when they’d regulate their output according to what was needed or not in town.] Best Wishes for your successful New Year!

  4. According to EATER’s “The Year in Eating 2019” the height of fine dining luxury this year was poultry served with its beak, claws, and feathers intact. Another favorite dish for the *too-bored, too-much money* diner was tempura-fried mallard wing, its inky feathers still attached. Still another favorite course found guests eating duck brain out of a duck skull with a spoon made out of duck beak.

    Well, as I take stock of the past year I once again find myself with *not too much money, and *not too bored* and so I eagerly look forward to trying many of the above dishes our roving gourmand has cited as his favorite in 2019. Even if the fried chicken from Firebird Nashville is served sans beak and feathers.

  5. I thought for sure you’d drum up readership, and raise blood pressures by voting the slopper one of your top 12 new dishes of the year…

    Happy New Year to Gil, Kim, and all his rabid readers.

      1. In the Daily Meal list is the Fried Chicken at Willie Mae’s Scotch House for the state of Louisiana. I’ve had Willie Mae’s fried chicken and I can count on a hundred hands a better selection for Louisiana. The Duck and Andouille Gumbo at Prejean’s in Lafayette or the Fried Catfish and Crawfish Etouffee at Chimes in Covington.

        As for including the slopper on your list I think it was very wise of you not to, given that Attorney General Balderas’ restraining order remains in place.

          1. Or, once a restaurant makes the list The Daily Meal “journalists” no longer have to visit new potential nominees thereby saving time and money? By the way, here’s the website copy on The Daily Meal introducing their “best thing to eat in every state” explaining its “methodology” for its selections:

            >Pinpointing a single dish, at a single restaurant, as the absolute best bite in a state is no easy task. These highlighted dishes aren’t just universally beloved by just about everyone who’s tried them (in fact, many of them have put the restaurants at which they’re served on the map), they say something about their home state, its foodways and its residents.<

            Huh? Where's the methodology? This is the equivalent of the baseball hall of fame inductees being selected because "they are universally beloved by just about everyone who's seen them play."

    1. Clearly Gil is concerned about his personal safety with the glaring omission of the slopper on this list. The barbs he unjustly received after his assessment of Pueblo green chile must still be stinging. Some people just can’t take the truth.

      Tanti auguri to Gil, Kim, and their fans.

    1. Thank you, Bob. One of our New Year’s resolutions is to return to Forghedaboudit to once again experience and enjoy your incomparable cuisine and warm hospitality…not to mention the very best pizza in New Mexico. We’re also looking forward to the launch of your Las Cruces restaurant which promises to deliver greater highs than the nearby Spaceport.

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