Red or Green: New Mexico’s Food Scene Is On Fire–January, 2020

Carne Adovada Plate From New Mexico Beef Jerky Company

Around the world while the city still sleeps, you begin.  Some of you because that’s what your parents did.  Others, you’re the first of your kind.  But all of you are one.  Siblings in an ancient tradition.  You take the time, temperature and love.  You bring them together to make something that brings people together.  You make more than just food.  You make friendships.  You make joy.  And for a hundred years, Dawn has been right there with you.  So this is for you, for bakers everywhere.  Thank you for letting us be part of your story.  Here’s to the next chapter together.  Here’s to bakers.” Albuquerque’s beloved Golden Crown Panaderia was one of five bakeries across the globe selected to be featured in a new spot for Dawn Foods. The advertisement, which showcases the work bakers do each morning, followed the father-son tandem of Pratt and Christopher Morales as they get Albuquerque ready for the day with the best baked goods in town.  It’s a touching tribute to true unsung heroes: Dawn 100 Years | Thank You

Yelp’s Top 100 Places to Eat is a list unlike any other “best of” out there. Sure, you’ll see your fancy-schmancy spots and white tablecloth restaurants, but it’s also chock full of hidden gems and off-the-beaten-path joints.”  “To determine Yelp’s Top Places to Eat in 2020, Yelp’s data science team pulled the top restaurants by ratings and number of reviews in 2019 across the U.S., with representation based on each place’s share of top-rated restaurants nationally, then curated the list with the expertise of our Community Managers around the country to finalize the rankings.”  Only one eatery across the Land of Enchantment made Yelp’s sacrosanct list, but it’s a great one.  Dia De Los Takos, purveyor of perhaps the best tacos you’ll ever have ranked 56th in the country, quite a coup for a mobile food kitchen (that’s food truck to you, Bob).

Golden Crown Panaderia, One of Five Bakeries Worldwide Honored

If I can make it there I’ll make it anywhere. It’s up to you New York, New York.” Albuquerque native Eric See is certainly making it big time in the Big Apple and he’s doing so by introducing Hatch green chile to big city sophisticates. In fact, every time diners visit his restaurant, The Awkward Scone, they’re transported to the Land of Enchantment because every aspect of the menu includes some nuance of chile. Dishes such as green chile, cheddar scones, green chile cheddar apple pie with rosemary and three types of breakfast burritos are flying off the menu. In a recent profile, Eater NY explained that all the chile is shipped directly from New Mexico to the Brooklyn-based cafe.

The Daily Meal acknowledges that “each state has its own regional comfort foods and iconic restaurant dishes,” but discovering “what is the absolute best thing to order, and where can you get it” can be a conundrum.  To make it easy for the travelers among us, The Daily Meal compiled a list of the “Absolute Best Thing to Eat in Every State.”  Best in the Land of Enchantment is the “astounding” green chile cheeseburger from the Santa Fe Bite in the state capital.  “These burgers start with a 10-ounce chuck-sirloin patty, which is seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic salt and onion salt as it sears on a griddle. A heaping spoonful of roasted and chopped Hatch green chiles (a New Mexico claim to culinary fame) is piled on top, followed by a melting layer of LaBlatt Swiss-American cheese. It’s placed onto a custom-made brioche-style bun and served alongside some housemade potato chips.”  (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)

Appetizers from Jerusalem: Taste of the Holy Land

Does anyone else believe the title of the Denver Post article “Albuquerque — yes, Albuquerque — is the next foodie destination you need to visit” is maybe just a bit condescending?  Or maybe it just shows how relatively unknown the Duke City is as a mecca for dining.  The author does make up for it by declaring “you’re missing out on foodie heaven” if you limit yourself to Santa Fe or Taos.  Her own Duke City dining discoveries included Campo at Los Poblanos where “the menu changes seasonally, but you can’t go wrong, especially if you order something with lavender in it.”  She also visited Vernon’s Hidden Valley Steakhouse which “has a classy, old-timey vibe and no windows to the outside world, so it truly feels like a hidden bar from the early 1900s.”   For “traditional New Mexican fare” she recommends El PintoShe also recommends a visit to Mas Tapas Y Vino where you should “bring a huge appetite, or recruit a few friends to join you for the weekend so you can justify the number of plates you’ll want to order.” 

Gastro Obscura invites readers to “eat like pre-Columbian Native Americans” at Pueblo Harvest, the commodious restaurant within the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.  Pueblo Harvest now offers a dinner which showcases pre- and post-contact options.  The dividing line is 1492, the year Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue. “The “Pre-Contact” menu eschews the staple beef, chicken, wheat, butter, sugar, and rice that anchor “American” cuisine altogether; it’s a love letter to New Mexico’s original inhabitants, a smattering of indigenous ingredients upheld and shaped by modern culinary techniques.”  If you prefer burgers, salads and “mixed-Mexican options you’d expect from a New Mexican restaurant,” you can order from the Post-Contact menu. 

A Hundred Dollar Burger from The Grill

Gene Simmons, the frontman for the rock band Kiss, pondered the existential question “why is it that most of the folks I know think “personal growth” is caused entirely by those second and third helpings of biscuits and gravy?”   Biscuits can certainly be credited for a lot of personal growth across the fruited plain.  Great American Country, which purports to “brings you all things Americana” worked with the International Biscuit Festival to compile a list of the best biscuit in every state.  New Mexico’s best is the biscuit sandwich with sausage and housemade green chile jam which can be found only at Albuquerque’s Hartford Square.  Great American Country noted: “Focused on quality and service, the cozy Harford Square cafe changes their menu weekly and provides that at-home comfortable atmosphere.  (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)

Far & Wide employed “a mix of objective research and totally subjective opinion” to assess each “U.S. state’s signature foods and diversity of offerings to come up with” a “worst-to-best ranking of America’s food scenes by state.”  So where does the Land of Enchantment rank in this pantheon of pathetic and superb food scenes?  New Mexico ranked 34th, one spot higher than Arizona and 13th spots behind Colorado which is praised for its “green chili.”  Here’s what Far & Wide had to say about New Mexico’s culinary landscape: “Plenty of people enjoy a Santa Fe Chicken Salad, but we think putting chips and beans in a salad doesn’t make it New Mexican or good, and that the whole thing is kind of suspect. Add to that an obsession with the Frito Pie — a big pile of Fritos topped with chili — and you can see where New Mexico’s problems arise. On the flipside, the state does boast some delicious food in Santa Fe (besides the aforementioned salad!), with red and/or green chilis adding a healthy kick to meals.”

The colorful interior of Bandido Hideout

The term “relish” is very versatile; it can be used both as a noun (a condiment eaten with other food to add flavor) and as a verb (to take pleasure in; enjoy fully).  Relish is also the name of one of Albuquerque’s very best sandwich restaurants.  In its compilation of the best sandwich in every state, MSN Lifestyle listed Relish’s Albuquerque Turkey sandwich as New Mexico’s very best.  According to MSN Lifestyle: “It’s not unusual to see a line at this Uptown joint, focused on epicurean sandwiches made fresh with organic produce every day. Relish’s menu makes good use of hatch chiles (the green chili that New Mexico is famed for), with crowds snapping up the Albuquerque Turkey. Combining toasted sourdough heavy with roasted turkey, havarti cheese, chipotle mayo and the kicking green chili, it’s consistently good.”

The Daily Meal believes “there are certain dishes across the country that are undeniably iconic,” but what really makes them special is that some “regional specialties are somehow just not as good outside of their home state — if you’re even able to find them elsewhere.”  To make “your next vacation a little bit easier we’ve tracked down not only the one dish you absolutely must try in every state and Washington, D.C., but also the best restaurants at which to try them.”  The must try dish in New Mexico is green chile stew: “Green chiles work their way into just about every dish in New Mexico, but there’s no better way to sample them than in a simple stew. Going strong since 1960, The Shed is one of Santa Fe’s most renowned restaurants, and quite possibly the best place in the state to get your fix of dishes prepared with New Mexico’s famed Hatch chiles. The green chile stew here is made with roasted chiles, potatoes and chunks of lean pork. It’s everything that’s great about New Mexican cuisine in one iconic bowl of stew.”  (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)

Double Meat Green Chile Cheeseburger from Santiago’s New Mexican Grill

American comedian Demetri Martin called sports bars “great” because “they collect all of the people I don’t want to hang out with, and put them in one room.”  Some of us enjoy sports bars because of the adult beverages proffered therein.  Others of us enjoy the food, especially at gastropubs where the food is several legions better than the pub grub of yore.  Others like sports bars because they often have several large screen televisions in which we can watch the Dallas Cowboys and inferior sports teams.  Most of us like them for a combination of all three factors.  Whatever your reason for enjoying sports bars, The Daily Meal compiled a list of “the best sports bar in every state.”  New Mexico’s best is the Boxcar Bar and Grill in Santa Fe: “Boxcar Bar and Grill in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has just the right combination of eats, drinks and sports. This spot has the longest bar in the city, carries NFL Sunday Ticket and has numerous big TVs and 30 draft beer options with selections from local brewers. It serves brunch, lunch and dinner with Southwestern twists like Hatch green chile mac ‘n’ cheese as well as New Mexico’s most iconic pie: Frito pie.”  (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)

Cookbook author and television personality James Beard called crème brûlée “one of the greatest desserts in the realm of cooking.”  Julia Child was partial to île flottante, also known as the floating island dessert while Food Network celebrity chef Bobby Flay’s favorite dessert is the banana split.  If you’re looking to satisfy your sweet tooth, The Daily Meal compiled a list of local favorites designated the best places in each state to get dessert.  The sweetest dessert shop in New Mexico was deemed to be Kakawa Chocolate House in Santa Fe: “There are plenty of places to grab a drink in Santa Fe, but the sweetest sips in town can be found at Kakawa Chocolate House, which is famous for its drinking chocolate. Flavors range from sweet to bitter to spicy, and if you can’t decide, opt for a flight to sample four. Other chocolate creations include truffles, ice cream, brownies and cookies as well as New Mexico-inspired treats like chocolate-dipped peppers and Hatch green chile caramels.” (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)

At Rebel Donut in Albuquerque, you can pick up the very best kind of six pack

The Daily Meal took it one step further by focusing on one specific dessert favorite. Its compilation of the best doughnuts in every state listed ” fresh, warm, pillowy doughnuts coated in glaze, dusted in cinnamon sugar” and topped with imagination and creativity.  New Mexico’s very best doughnut is Albuquerque’s Rebel Donut which continues to earn accolades from local and national media.  The Daily Meal noted: “At Rebel Donuts in Albuquerque, New Mexico, guests can choose from the “Usual Suspects,” a menu that features standard doughnuts made fresh by hand each morning, or from the “Radicals” menu. “Radical” doughnuts are described as being for people who “want to live on the edge” and range from The Dough Boy — a chocolate-chip cake doughnut — to The Munchies — a vanilla cake donut hand-dipped in fudge with peanuts, pretzels, potato chips and M&M’s on top.”  (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)

In the decades since its debut on American shores in the 1960s, the sushi scene has come a long way. Today, there are almost too many sushi restaurants to count, many of which have much more on offer than the standard California roll.”  To compile its list of the “Best Sushi Restaurant in Every State,”  The Daily Meal “looked at Japanese restaurants that specialize in sushi and are highly rated by local publications, on user-generated review sites and in pre-existing regional and local rankings.”  Named New Mexico’s best sushi was Albuquerque’s Fareast Fuzion.  The Daily Meal indicated “It’s all in the name: Fareast Fuzion features top-level Asian fusion food from Japanese to Chinese and Thai. Guests can enjoy a meal at the sushi bar, a table or the outdoor terrace.”  (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)

Esteemed Judges at the 2020 Souper Bowl (Photo Courtesy of the Roadrunner Food Bank)

On the Saturday preceding some ballyhooed professional football game, Albuquerque’s Roadrunner Food Bank hosts its largest fund-raising event, the Souper Bowl. More than 1,000 guests visited the sprawling food bank warehouse to enjoy scrumptious soups and delectable desserts from nearly 40 Albuquerque area restaurants. Thirteen restaurants were picked as the top winning restaurants in the categories of soup, vegetarian soup, dessert and best booth from votes cast by guests selecting their top restaurants.  Winning restaurants were:

People’s Choice Winners – Soup
1st Place and Souper Bowl Champion: Ohana Hut
2nd Place: Sage Dining Services at Albuquerque Academy
3rd Place: Turtle Mountain Brewing Co.

People Choice Winners – Vegetarian Soup
1st Place: Vic’s Daily Café
2nd Place: Rosemary
3rd Place: Artichoke Cafe

People Choice Winners – Desserts
1st Place: Theobroma Chocolatier
2nd Place: Nothing Bundt Cakes
3rd Place: Church Street Cafe

People Choice Winner – Best Booth: D.H. Lescombes Winery and Bistro

A panel of celebrity judges selected the top three awards as part of the Critics’ Choice judging during a blind tasting. The 2020 Critics’ Choice awards winners were:

Critics’ Choice Winners
1st Place: Sage Dining Services at Albuquerque Academy
2nd Place: Slow Roasted Bocadillos
3rd Place: Ohana Hut

About Gil Garduno

Since 2008, the tagline on Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog has invited you to “Follow the Culinary Ruminations of New Mexico’s Sesquipedalian Sybarite.” To date, nearly 1 million visitors have trusted (or at least visited) my recommendations on nearly 1,100 restaurant reviews. Please take a few minutes to tell me what you think. Whether you agree or disagree with me, I'd love to hear about it.

View all posts by Gil Garduno →

One Comment on “Red or Green: New Mexico’s Food Scene Is On Fire–January, 2020”

  1. Well I’m not going to rant about how come our Championship restaurant doesn’t get the accolades it deserves?
    Nothing even comes close to what Forghedaboudit Southwest Italian brings with unique delicious and consistently cutting edge.
    Visit us at TripAdvisor

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.