Red or Green: New Mexico’s Food Scene Was On Fire in 2020

Pie-O-Neer, the Legendary Pie Town Restaurant Closed Forever in 2020

We’ll always remember 2020 as the year we mostly stayed home, the year of cancelled vacations, of working remotely and as the ignominious year of politics and pandemics, a “year of nonstop awfulness,” according to Dave Berry. It was the year so many our favorite restaurants and small businesses had to shutter their doors and those who didn’t close, struggled mightily to remain viable.    Despite restrictions and resets, we continued to support restaurant through take-out and delivery options enabled by locally-based technology solutions such as Selflane.  Some of us discovered inspired innovation in the form of mobile kitchens (that’s food truck to you, Bob) offering dining concepts not often found in brick-and-mortar establishments.

2020 was another banner year for Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog with more milestones having been achieved.   Most significantly to your friendly neighborhood restaurant review blogger was the continued dialogue–your sharing of comments noting contentment, humor, news or displeasure with me or some other food topic.  On 9 April 2020, the blog achieved its 11,000th comment.  There are now 11,661 comments on 11,998 reviews, an increase of 886 comments and 57 new reviews over 2019.  Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos (BOTVOLR) retains the lifetime commenter achievement award with 1,342 comments over the life of the blog. 

Most Popular Reviews: All Time Most Popular Reviews: 2020
Mary & Tito’s (Albuquerque) Chile Chicken Nashville Hot Chicken (Albuquerque)
The Owl Cafe & Bar (San Antonio) AK Pizza (Albuquerque)
Laguna Burger (66 Pit Stop, Albuquerque) Birrieria Y Tacos Alex (Albuquerque)
K&I Diner (Albuquerque) Federico’s Mexican Food (Rio Rancho)
Cecilia’s Cafe (Albuquerque) Sharky’s Fish & Shrimp (Albuquerque)
Down & Dirty Seafood Boil (Albuquerque) Mary & Tito’s (Albuquerque)
The Burrito Lady (Albuquerque) Taqueria Mexico (Albuquerque)
Namaste Restaurant (Rio Rancho) La Guelagueza (Albuquerque)
Monte Carlo Steakhouse (Albuquerque) Cecilia’s Cafe (Albuquerque)
Los Potrillos (Santa Fe) Dagmar’s Delectables (Rio Rancho)

From a personal growth perspective, 2020 was the year I began co-hosting–with the fabulous Mindy Zale–“Hungry Hump Days” on Sunny 101.3FM.  It airs on Wednesday mornings starting at the inhumane hour of 6AM. But, I digress. This conspectus isn’t a self-aggrandizing “I love me” introspection. It’s a celebration of the restaurants essayed therein. That certainly includes the 30 restaurants which in 2020, moved on to the “gone but not forgotten” plain. Some, such as the delightful Cocoa Flora, flashed sheer brilliance, but like a beautiful comet, left us too soon.  Others such as the legendary Pie-O-Neer (pictured above) had made weary sojourners happy one forkful at a time for decades.

It wasn’t entirely an annus horribilis. 2020 also saw the launch of several new independent restaurants which are quickly becoming favorites, some of which made the list of the year’s most popular reviews.  Heralded newcomers include Forghedaboudit Southwest Italian maybe the very best reason to visit Las Cruces.  Other restaurants–such as Saigon City (formerly Saigon Far East), Tako Ten (formerly Dia De Los Takos) and AK Pizza (formerly AK Deli) relocated and changed names while retaining the high quality for which they were known.  2020 also saw the village of Placitas finally gain a pizza place (Placitas Pizza) and it’s pretty good, too.  My friend Howie “Duke of the Duke City” Kaibel, the charismatic Albuquerque Community Manager for Yelp informed me there were 126 new business openings this year, with just 41 opening prior to March 15 when the world changed.

New Mexican Queso from Richardson’s, a New Mexican Restaurant in Phoenix, Arizona

December, 2020

COVID-19 didn’t stop the New Mexico Restaurant Association (NMRA) from showcasing the talent and tenacity of the Land of Enchantment’s incomparable restaurant industry during its annual Hospitality Industry Awards. This challenging year’s richly deserving winners not only exemplified the highest standards of restaurant operations, they’re part of the fabric of the communities they serve:

Earning Restaurateur of the Year, the highest honor a person can receive in the New Mexico restaurant industry, was Matt DiGregory of the Range Café Restaurants. The winner is chosen based on the recipient’s advancement of the industry and involvement in their communities.
Earning the 2020 Restaurant Neighbor of the Year award were George and Alicia Griego of Albuquerque’s Central Grill.  This award recognizes restaurants that are active supporters of their communities and make a positive contribution to the places where they live and work.
Chef of the Year honors for 2020 went to Tristin Rogers of the Hollow Spirits Distillery in Albuquerque.  The NMRA calls chefs the “cornerstone of the restaurant business” whose “creations are artistic and delicious.”
Calling restaurant managers, “the glue which holds the whole restaurant together,” the NMRA named Miia Hebert of Garcia’s Kitchen Manager of the Year for 2020.

A Slice of Stollen From Dagmar’s Delectables in Rio Rancho

In a feature titled “Most Popular Christmas Treats in Every State,” careers site Zippia used Google Trends to determine “what Christmas treat each state eats a disproportionate amount of.”  It’s a rather misleading premise considering Zippia contradicts the feature’s title by admitting what Google Trends actually shows is “what treat is searched a disproportionately, high amount.”   Zippia apparently hasn’t figured out that searching for a Christmas treat on Google doesn’t translate one-to-one to eating that Christmas treat.  So, New Mexicans executed a “disproportionately high” amount of searches for fruitcake, but that doesn’t necessarily mean any of us ate one!  (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)

Another “clickbait” article sure to elevate the blood pressure of New Mexicans is Redbook’s “The Chili Everyone is Talking About in Your State.”  Save for the paragon of chili deliciousness prepared by Friend of Gil Shawn Riley, whenever most of us talk about “chili,” it’s usually in very derogatory terms.  In New Mexico, we enjoy “chile” not what former United States Senator “Saint” Pete Dominici once referred to as “inedible mixture of watery tomato soup, dried gristle, half-cooked kidney beans, and a myriad of silly ingredients that is passed off as food in Texas and Oklahoma.”  Still, it was interesting to see what Redbook would have to say about the “chili” everyone is talking about in New Mexico.  Taking the cowardly way out, Redbook simply noted with an asterisk “*All of the New Mexico chili mentions on Foursquare refer to green chile.”  We’re apparently all talking about the green chile at the Frontier in Albuquerque.

Falafel From Jerusalem: Taste of the Holy Land in Rio Rancho

MSN Lifestyle also took a stab at naming “Every State’s Most Charming and Historic Restaurant.”   Not surprisingly MSN’s choice for the Land of Enchantment’s most charming and historic restaurant is Santa Fe’s El Farol.  Here’s what MSN had to say: “The most famous restaurant and bar in Santa Fe is also the oldest. El Farol has been a go-to for tapas plates and flamenco performances since it opened in 1835. The New York Times once called it “one of the best bars on Earth” and there’s even an economic game theory problem named after the popularity of the bar. Guests love the patatas bravas and grilled artichokes as well as the paella and sangria. Due to COVID-19 the restaurant is temporarily closed but wood-fired pizza is available to go.”

Robert Fulghum, author of True Love, believes “We’re all a little weird. And life is a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall into mutually satisfying weirdness—and call it love—true love.”   My friend Mindy Zale of Sunny 101.3FM believes my tastes in food can lean to the furthest extremities of weirdness.  Mindy, it’s not weirdness when I  feast on chapulines (grasshoppers) and hormigas (ants) at La Guelaguetza.  It’s  compatibility and true love.  Weirdness is the green chile sundae at Caliche’s Frozen Custard in Las Cruces and Alamagordo.  That’s not my opinion.  That’s the opinion of Livingly, an online lifestyle presence which compiled a list of “The Weirdest Food In Every State.”

The Mother Klucker from Kamikaze Kitchen

Food Network star Sandra Lee offered some advice some of us can appreciate: “Sure, you can mix the flour, baking soda, salt, shortening and the whole nine yards, but why wouldn’t you just pull out a box of Bisquick?”  Baking is a very precise science requiring patience, analytics and serious skills–as serious as nunchuck skills, bow hunting skills and computer hacking skills.  Fortunately for those of us lacking skills, there are pastry practitioners and bread bakers ready and willing to give us their best.  MSN recognizes these stalwarts in a feature naming “Every State’s Best Independent Bakery.”  To no surprise, MSN’s choice for the Land of Enchantment’s best is the Golden Crown Panaderia in Albuquerque.  MSN wrote: “This neighborhood bakery which has been in operation since 1972 is one of the best in the state. Head there for sweet or savory empanadas, biscochitos (spiced biscuits) and conchas (sweet bread with a crunchy topping). It never fails to impress its hundreds of loyal customers

What would the Christmas season in New Mexico be without tamales?  They’re not only delicious, but discussing just who makes them best is a great topic for the “Airing of Grievances” during Festivus.  A number of reputable sources suggest you go off the beaten path to Cleveland, New Mexico for what they consider the best tamales.  Teresa’s Tamales has been heralded by Only in Your State, New Mexico Magazine and New Mexico True, a triumvirate of trustworthy sources.  Cleveland is only about thirty miles away from Peñasco, your trusty blogger’s hometown.  (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)

November, 2020

Kim Yacone, Owner of Forghedabouditin Las Cruces and Deming, Discusses The Impact of the New Two-Week Shelter-in-Place Reset

Every day dozens of restaurateurs across the Land of Enchantment consistently demonstrate that they’re not only restaurateurs, they’re friends and neighbors. In strange and unprecedented times when health care providers and first responders are rightfully being hailed as heroes, we should also recognize the everyday heroism of restaurateurs and their staffs who continue to feed us, even if it’s not in the confines of their homey restaurants. In a poignant interview with the Mesilla Valley News, restaurateur Kim Yacone of Forghedaboudit in Las Cruces and Deming, explains that during the mandated new operating model (take-out only), her primary concern has been taking care of employees, all of whom she considers family. Kim also details the challenges restaurants face–and probably will face through May, 2021–just to survive. She shares how loyal customers can help during these stressful times. It’s a very compelling, heart-felt interview from a very compassionate restaurateur whose words reflect the struggles of all restaurateurs throughout New Mexico.

I’ve actually been told I have a voice for leading mindfulness meditation sessions, a soothing and calming voice that puts people at ease (if not to sleep). Those are probably not the vocal qualities you look for in a radio personality unless they’re balanced by another personality with a true radio voice–someone like the exuberant and beautiful Mindy Zane and marketing maven Kurt Nilson. On Wednesday mornings at the unholy hour of 6AM, Mindy, Kurt and I host Hungry Hump Days, a half-hour show centered on the topic of food. Every week we’re talking with chefs, bakers and restaurateurs as well as writers, bloggers and other interesting people involved in bringing delicious food to the community. Catch Hungry Hump Days on Wednesday at about 6:15 on Sunny 101.3FM.

Deshebrada (shredded beef), Chipotle (pork in chipotle sauce), and Asado (pork in red chile) Tacos from La Herradura in Artesia. (Photo Courtesy of Tom Molitor)

Because of social distancing dictates, the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) held a “virtual” conference to announce the winners of the prestigious IACP awards. The awards ceremony was broadcasted live to award nominees and registered conference attendees. New Mexico’s own four-time James Beard award-winning author, the scintillating Cheryl Jamison was a finalist for the best self-published book in the Literary or Historical Food Writing category. Her magnificent tome, Perini Ranch Steakhouse: Stories and Recipes for Real Texas Food chronicles the history of what many consider the best country steakhouse in the country. Best of all, she tested and wrote all the Perini Steakhouse recipes for home cooks.

Maybe Zippia, the self-professed “career expert” should stick to “empowering people with the information and tools they need to achieve their career aspirations.” On the other hand, their feature on the most popular Thanksgiving sides in every state, is no less banal than similar features on other food sites. Using Google Trends, Zippia determined “what Thanksgiving side each state eats a disproportionate amount of.” According to Google Trends (which is omniscient and never wrong), New Mexicans apparently are crazy about green bean casserole. Hmm, maybe with a little green chile…

The beautiful dining room at Saigon City

Never mind Thanksgiving feast sides when you can dig into humongous portions of dessert. The Food Network “dug into the Thanksgiving recipes that are uniquely popular to specific areas. Some are local specialties, while others are more classic recipes in our arsenal that are especially beloved by certain states.” Uniquely popular in a specific area, especially beloved by certain states…that’s a perfect description for the Food Network’s choice as the “top Thanksgiving recipe in every state” for New Mexico. That choice was our sacrosanct and official state cookie, the biscochito. The Food Network notes: “New Mexicans have shown us a whole new way to love lard — and it’s not in pie dough! These crispy Santa Fe-born cookies are scented with anise and cinnamon and are just right with coffee or tea after a big holiday meal.” (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)

When another inauthentic taco from Taco Bell just won’t do,” Mashed, an online presence which purports to be “the ultimate destination for all things food” encourages you to go in search of the best taco in your state. Using a “combination of reviews, recommendations, awards, and other forms of recognition,” Mashed declared the Land of Enchantment’s best taco to be the shrimp taco from Taqueria Mexico in Albuquerque. Here’s what Mashed has to say: “You would think that New Mexico would be a state that has marvelous tacos — and you’d be absolutely right! Taqueria Mexico in Albuquerque has many loyal patrons who simply can’t get enough of their food, particularly their tacos. Of all the options, go with Taqueria Mexico’s Shrimp Taco. This thing is filled with grilled shrimp, onions, bell peppers, and tomatoes. Be sure to order more than one because these tacos tend to disappear faster than you’d expect.”

Artistic Cake Jar from A Heavenly Taste Cakery at El Vado

According to Doordash, the world’s largest food delivery service, “the food Americans have missed the most during long months of not dining out — and most look forward to eating again when restaurant-going gets back to normal — is Mexican.” When frequenting restaurants resumes being part of our normal routine, MSN Lifestyle has some suggestions as to where we should go. Compiling “the best Mexican restaurant in every state” MSN actually listed a Santa Fe restaurant that isn’t one of the usual suspects. Its choice for New Mexico’s best Mexican restaurant is El Callejón Taquería and Grill. Here’s why: “There are burgers and salads (including the Hail, Caesar) on the menu at this “very good place for Mexican food,” as one Yelp reviewer put it — and another reported that what they serve is “Mexicanized more upscale American bar food.” On the other hand, the menu also lists al pastor, carne asada, and other taco variations, as well as ceviche tostadas, enchiladas filled with queso fresco, and a torta filled with red-chile-marinated pork, among other non-American-bar-food items.” (Thank you Steve Coleman)

The Food Network contends that “More than mere trend, food trucks have firmly established themselves as a dining genre all their own, and today, there’s never been more variety or creativity in what can be whipped up in a tiny kitchen on wheels.” Ironically, the one rolling kitchen in which that variety and creativity are no longer on display is the Food Network’s choice for the Land of Enchantment’s “best food truck.” That’s because Oni Noodles transitioned from food truck (that’s mobile kitchen to you, Bob) to brick and mortar restaurant. Despite that, the Food Network’s narrative stands: “Oni Noodles’ signature (and most popular) ramen is the shoyu, which stars a broth made from slowly simmered roasted local pork bones from Talus Wind Ranch, bobbing with springy Sun Noodles, a sous-vide egg, thinly sliced local pork belly and roasted seasonal vegetables. For a hyper-local (and vegan) taste, don’t miss the pecan dashi ramen (pictured above), where the broth is bolstered with local chiles, toasted sesame purée and pecan milk. Linver recommends adding smoked bone marrow to your bowl — it’s served in the bone and can be scooped out to eat solo or stirred into the broth for an added smoky, savory layer.”

Salsa and Chips from La Herradura in Artesia (Photo Courtesy of Tom Molitor)

There’s probably nothing ironic about a sandwich except maybe Subway calling its employees “sandwich artists.” Most sandwich builds don’t start with flash cards that tell you exactly how to construct each sandwich. Maybe that’s why you won’t ever see a Subway sandwich on a list like Far and Wide’s “best sandwich in every US state.” You have to go far and wide to find a sandwich as good as the Land of Enchantment’s best sandwich – the TNA from Bocadillos in Albuquerque. Far and Wide described it thusly: “The TNA at Slow Roasted Bocadillos in Albuquerque, boasts slow-roasted honey-mustard turkey, house-made green apple chile chutney, avocado, lettuce, tomato and muenster cheese.”

October, 2020

Guacamole De Camaron Y Pulpo From Cazuela’s in Rio Rancho

Slovenian cuisine in Colorado. Burmese cuisine in Indiana. Sri Lankan cuisine in Kentucky. Who da thunk it? The Land of E Pluribus Unum is truly “one from many,” an aggregate of cultures. Conde Naste Traveler compiled “a list of state-specific cuisines, each based on a longstanding diaspora (like Vietnamese food in Louisiana), an Indigenous community (Abenaki in Vermont), or something totally endemic (New Mexican in New Mexico).” In a feature titled “50 States, 50 Cuisines,” The list “highlighted a cuisine worth traveling to each state for, much of which you truly can’t get anywhere else.” Among the restaurants which showcase New Mexico’s “endemic” cuisine best, according to Conde Naste: “In Santa Fe, try La Choza for carne adovada (slow-cooked pork in red chile sauce), posole (red chile pork-and-hominy stew), stacked red or green chile enchiladas at The Shed, and breakfast burritos at Pantry or Cafe Pasqual’s. Meanwhile the chile rellenos and stuffed sopapillas at Mary & Tito’s, green chile stew at Cocina Azul, and red chile sauce at Sadie’s are a must in Albuquerque.” (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)

In the January edition of “Red or Green: New Mexico’s Food Scene is On Fire,” you were introduced to the Awkward Scone, a much-heralded restaurant launched by New Mexico native Chef Eric See in New York City. After a very promising start, COVID-19 devastated his business along with that of so many other restaurants in the Big Apple. Chef See returned home to Albuquerque only to find that the situation across the Land of Enchantment wasn’t any better. Returning to New York, he launched Ursula, a counter-service New Mexican restaurant with an initial focus on takeout and delivery service. Breakfast burritos and other red and chile blessed favorites are featured fare at Ursula.

James “Jack” Jackson Presides Over What is Arguably New Mexico’s Very Best Barbecue at Mad Jack’s Mountaintop Barbecue in Cloudcroft (Photo Courtesy of Tom Molitor)

Great seafood in New Mexico? Naysayers might argue that even good seafood in the Land of Enchantment is as rare as a Subaru in Santa Fe sporting an NRA bumper sticker. It’s too easy to default to the “landlocked state” argument. New Mexico does have great seafood! Savvy diners have discovered you can find it and not solely in one of our enchanting mariscos restaurants. Redbook posited “If you thought seafood was just for the coasts, you’ve got another thing coming.” Its compilation of the “Top Seafood Restaurants Near You,” Redbook listed one superb seafood restaurant per state. Its choice for New Mexico’s top seafood restaurant was Albuquerque’s very own Poki Poki Cevicheria.

Cheapism, a site which argues you can live well irrespective of your income claims there is no such thing as being too frugal. If this budget-conscious philosophy sounds like you, you might enjoy its compilations of “The Best Cheap Burger in Every State.” Whether or not you subscribe to a philosophy of stretching your dollar, it’s hard to argue with Cheapism’s choice for the best cheap burger in New Mexico. Its choice is Sparky’s Burgers, Barbecue & Espresso in Hatch. Here’s what Cheapism had to say: “There’s no better place to try a green chile cheeseburger ($10.99, but that includes one side order and a drink) than at Sparky’s Burgers in Hatch, the town that provides the namesake to the famed New Mexican chile. The colorful art deco restaurant has also become a major roadside destination for its exceptional wood-fired barbecue dishes.”

Crawfish Omelet Creole from 3C’s Bistro in Rio Rancho

The app known as “Hater” boasts it’s “the first dating app that matches people on the things they hate.” Hater asks users to build a profile by swiping different directions to indicate whether they love, hate, like, dislike or are indifferent to certain people, activities or ideas. The app then searches its archive to connect users with other people who share common dislikes. More than half a million users have rated items over 100 million times. Hater’s research team pulled all the food and drink data by state and determined what foods each state’s residents hate most. New Mexico’s most hated food (maybe because it’s not made with green chile) is chicken nuggets.

José R. Ralat, taco editor for Texas Monthly contends that “burritos are a type of taco, just like flautas are a type of fried taco.” Some people might consider those fighting words while others don’t care what they’re called as long as we can eat them whenever and wherever we want. The “wherever” part wasn’t always possible. Not that very long ago, you couldn’t find a decent taco…er, burrito in many states. Under the spacious skies of 2020, there are terrific burritos virtually everywhere as Far & Wide found out when compiling its list of the best burrito in every state. The very best burrito in the Land of Enchantment was deemed to come from El Chile Toreado, a food truck (that’s mobile kitchen to you, Bob) in Santa Fe. Far & Wide is especially fond of Chile Toreado’s tacos al pastor: “The tacos al pastor at El Chile Toreado are the best in the state, with some customers claiming to still be drooling about it for weeks after. Something about the combination of spiciness, slightly fatty cuts of meat and the surprising addition of pineapple make these tacos worth remembering.” Those tacos are so good that either Far & Wide forgot they were compiling a list of the best burritos or they agree with Jose R. Ralat.

Wings From Wing Tyme

The best of the best, top of the heap, crème de la crème, the very finest. Whichever of these designations you choose to use signifies par excellence, something that can’t be topped. There are undoubtedly too many burgers under spacious skies to select only one that reigns supreme over all others. As such, The Daily Meal puts together an annual list of the 101 Best Burgers in America. Only two of the Land of Enchantment’s burger standouts made the list. At #100 is the green chile cheeseburger from Burger Boy in Cedar Crest. Daily Meal described it as “a classic cheeseburger topped with green chiles.” At #63 is the “World Famous,” a green chile cheeseburger from Sparky’s Burgers, BBQ and Espresso in Hatch. Daily Meal stresses “A trip to Sparky’s wouldn’t be complete without ordering the World Famous.”

Bosque Farms native Penelope Grace Simons, a professional private chef, made it to the final round of the Food Network’s cooking show “Chopped” on an episode which aired October 27th. Chef Simons, whose career has taken her all around the world and includes cooking for actor Robert DeNiro and his family, made it to the final round. She talked about opening a sustainable bed and breakfast in Bosque Farms. We would certainly welcome her with open arms.

September, 2020

Carne Asada and Carnitas Tacos From Federico’s in Rio Rancho

Colorado Governor Jared Pollis must be a masochist. For the second consecutive year, he went on Facebook and published a photo of his peanut butter, banana, honey, and Pueblo chile sandwich. He captioned the photo: “2020 is about to get a whole lot better.” Not surprisingly, he was quickly eviscerated with threats of a recall petition, accusations that he was experiencing pregnancy cravings and assertions that he ruined the Elvis sandwich. Mostly, however, respondents weighed in on the superiority of New Mexico green chile. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham interjected: “Not again, Jared! This is a crime against green chile – just like it was last year.” Perhaps the most telling observation came from a Coloradan who lamented “We need a different spokesperson for the Pueblo v Hatch Green Chile War. The whole of New Mexico is now wondering if Coloradans even know how to eat green chile after this Tweet.”

The sage quote “life is like a sandwich. You have to fill it with the best ingredients.” sounds like something Forest Gump would have said. New Mexicans know that our hallowed red and green chile is the best and most essential ingredient–and not just for sandwiches (though never with peanut butter, banana and honey). As my friend Sarita says “chile improves everything it touches.” Alas, MSN Lifestyle doesn’t agree. In a feature titled “The Strangest Food From Every State,” MSN believes the Land of Enchantment’s strangest food is a green chile sundae from Caliche’s in Las Cruces. Here’s what MSN had to say: “Caliche’s in Las Cruces is known for its frozen custard, but it doesn’t just top the various flavors with the usual sweet sauces, sprinkles, and the like. The specialty it calls the New Mexican is a big dish of frozen vanilla custard crowned with chopped green chiles and sprinkled with salted pecans.” Sounds pretty good to me. Sarita?

Pork Ribs From Noodle Works

If you’re sick of your own cooking but don’t feel comfortable eating out just yet, it’s time to order food in.” That’s good advice from MSN. In a feature titled “The Best Restaurants for a Night In,” MSN compiled a list of the very best restaurants providing delivery services in every state. These restaurants proffer everything from pizza and steak to artisan lobster rolls and chicken wings. For once, a restaurant not serving red and (or) green chile was listed as New Mexico’s best. MSN encourages Duke City diners to “Get your sushi fix in Albuquerque at Sushi Xuan. It’s on Grubhub and DoorDash, and usually arrives fast and fresh. If you’re stuck with what to order, go with the AirForce roll (shrimp tempura, tuna and crab meat) and the Lady in Red roll (green chili tempura, crab meat, spicy mayo, sriracha and eel sauce). Also, words can’t fully explain how good the Korean spicy chicken stir-fry dish is.”

Food writer Calvin Trillin once declared “Anybody who doesn’t think that the best hamburger place in the world is in his home town is a sissy.” Apparently I’m a pretty effeminate guy because my home town has a dearth of great burgers. The same can’t be said about San Antonio, New Mexico, home of the Buckhorn Tavern (reopened since my last review). The Buckhorn Tavern was MSN’s choice for New Mexico’s very best in its feature “The Best Burger and Fries in Every State.” MSN wrote “If there’s one burger you should order in New Mexico, it’s a green chile cheeseburger and Buckhorn Tavern serves one of the best. Customers describe it as big, juicy and cheesy, with plenty of green chile and loads of flavor. If you can’t get enough of the heat, order a portion of chile fries too. There are some special COVID-19 measures in place so read before visiting.”

Mango Lassi and Strawberry Coconut Lassi from Tikka Spice

Okay, he’s no Forest Gump, but Food Network star Jeff Mauro occasionally comes up with a pithy gem like this one: “Life is better between two pieces of bread.” He was, of course, waxing philosophical about the sandwich. Americans consume some 300-million sandwiches every day of the year. With a population of around 382-million people, that’s nearly one sandwich per person per day. That sounds about right. MSN’s compilation of “The Most Delicious Sandwiches in America” listed its choice for most delicious sandwich in every state. MSN’s choice for New Mexico’s best sandwich is a place your humble blogger has yet to visit. It’s Friends Sandwich & Coffee Shop in Albuquerque. MSN noted: “For just $7.50, order the albacore solid white tuna sandwich served either hot or cold with chips on Friends signature multi-grain bread with your pick of mustard or mayo and a choice of lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickles. You can add a choice of either Swiss, provolone, or American cheese for 50 cents more.”

Paula Deen advised: “You don’t want to make a steady diet of just lettuce. You don’t want to make a steady diet of fried chicken.” Well, maybe you might want to–especially with fried chicken–but you shouldn’t. On the happy occasions when you treat yourself to fried chicken, it’s refreshing to know you don’t have to pull up to KFC. Fried chicken restaurants festoon the spacious skies, beckoning those of us who don’t particularly like lettuce but love fried chicken. With the help of Foursquare, MSN found the “best rated fried chicken places in America.” New Mexico’s best is Albuquerque’s Frank’s Famous Chicken & Waffles.

August, 2020

Green Chile Apple Fritter from Whoo’s Donuts in Santa Fe

Outside, an online presence which purports to “inspire active participation in the world outside through award-winning coverage of the sports, people, places, adventure, discoveries, health and fitness, gear and apparel, trends and events that make up an active lifestyle” compiled a list of the best road trips in the U.S., putting together an enviable travel itinerary of every region across the fruited plain.   The Southwest region was represented by New Mexico “three ways,” including the High and Low Roads to Taos.  Should you take this route, Outside recommends “Be sure to pick up baked goods at Sugar Nymphs Bistro in Peñasco on the way up.”  

It’s bad enough that New Mexico is often mistaken for or believed to be a part of the southern nation which shares part of our name (Mexico) or that our northern neighbor (Colorado) has been crowing about its superior chile.  Now, even our neighbor to the west (Arizona) has gotten into the act.  A cook on shared a recipe for “Arizona Hatch Chili” stew. In addition for crediting Arizona with Hatch chile, the ill-informed, geographically-challenged chef also labeled the dish as “chili” and not “chile”.  Not surprisingly the recipe calls for copious amounts of cumin.

Beef and Chicken Shawarma from Need A Pita

A California writer who found a bag of fresh “Hatch chilis” (must have been the Arizona variety) went on the Twitterverse to ask “New Mexico and “possibly Texas/Arizona” for advice.  Kind New Mexicans who discovered the post not only shared recipes and preparation instructions, they corrected the abject misspelling “chili.”  Even Governor Michelle Lujan-Grisham weighed in: “Roast them and peel them – then your options are endless! Start with green chile chicken enchiladas or green chile stew. Enjoy your New Mexico chile – it’s the best in the world! P.S. Texas and Arizona won’t have anything to offer you on this subject.”   

Americans consume some 4.5 billion tacos a year.  One of the most versatile of all foods, tacos have become a ubiquitous culinary offering, available in countless variations across the fruited plain.  With the help of Yelp, Eat This, Not That compiled a list of “the most mouth-watering tacos in every state.”  The Land of Enchantment’s best taco was deemed to be the “Monte Carlo Tako” from Tako Ten in Albuquerque.  Tako Ten has had a brick-and-mortar presence only since August, 2020, but it garnered significant local and national acclaim in its previous instantiation as Dia De Los Takos.

Mangoneada from Pop Fizz

Eat This, Not That indicates that “while it’s not safe to eat at a restaurant indoors, many restaurants are lowering the risks for diners and employees by having people eat outside.”  For those of us looking for a sense of normalcy, the site published a list of the “best outdoor restaurant in each state.”  New Mexico’s best restaurant for outdoor dining was deemed to be Albuquerque’s El Pinto.  Here’s what Eat This, Not That had to say: “El Pinto has 160 types of tequila. To help balance out all of that agave, there is a wonderful menu full of Southwestern cuisine, including farm fresh eggs that are raised right on site. The restaurant is the only approved restaurant in the country with laying hens located at the business, specifically in the “Hen Hotel.” The outdoor patio has a stage with live music during the summer to complement the food and drinks.”

Full-time professional travel bloggers Laurence and Jessica Norah enjoyed a five week adventure exploring New Mexico.  Despite misspelling “chile,” their assessment that “New Mexican cuisine is an absolute delight, with a focus on the chilli plant” is spot-on.  They shared a list of 20 of their favorite places to eat in Albuquerque, covering both New Mexican food and other options.  Among their very favorite restaurants were Sadie’s, the Pueblo Harvest Cafe, Campo at Los Poblanos and the Dog House Drive In.  Their blog post includes great photographs as well as brief reviews.

July, 2020

Frutti Di Mare from Forghedaboudit in Las Cruces and Deming

In a Texas AAA Magazine article titled “Hot Pursuit,” a “budding chilehead found variety and spice in New Mexico’s Hatch valley.” My friend Steve Coleman of Steve’s Food Blog, who shared the article with me, described it as “like taking a Chile 101 class at NMSU.” Indeed, the article mentions the “symbiotic relationship” between the University and the Hatch chile industry with NMSU “horticulturalists educating future chile farmers, developing popular new varietals and generally fine-tuning the art and science of chile farming.” The writer explored “the quintessential New Mexico question: red or green,” ultimately determining that though he appeared to be in agony, he couldn’t get enough of either.

Several few years ago, Lay’s Potato Chips threw down the gauntlet in a very clever advertising campaign which challenged Americans: “Bet you can’t eat just one!” Both the slogan and commercial resonated with the snackers among us because they spoke so much undeniable truth. Opening a bag is an irresistible invitation to eat every single chip–even if you’re not hungry at the time. On July 27th, Lays introduced five limited time potato chip flavors to intensify our craving for the seductive snack. Among the five are Lay’s Chile Relleno potato chips inspired by Albuquerque’s very own Cocina Azul. Available exclusively at Walmart and 7-Eleven, these chips have been flying off the shelves. You’d better get them while they last. (Thank you, Bruce Terzes)

Grapefruit Brûlée Doughnut from Bristol Doughnuts

Director Martin Scorsese contends, “if your mother cooks Italian food, why should you go to a restaurant? One reason is because many of us didn’t grow up with mothers who cook Italian food. Another is because you can’t beat Italian restaurants for variety or deliciousness. Using a Yelp algorithm that considers the number of reviews and star ratings for a restaurant, Eat This, Not That compiled a list of the “best Italian restaurants in every state.” New Mexico’s very best Italian restaurant was deemed to be Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho. Here’s what Eat This, Not That had to say: “For an excellent sit-down Italian experience with a bit of added southwest flair, nothing can compare to Joe’s Pasta House when you visit New Mexico. The menu boasts a classic mix of Sicilian favorites like gnocchi and veal marsala alongside New Mexican green chile ravioli, making it a great standout from the average Italian eatery. When you feel tired of the same old Italian and want an eatery with a twist, it can’t get better than this.”

Three years ago, your friendly neighborhood blogger experienced one of the very best meals of my life at Forghedaboudit, an award-winning, family-owned Italian restaurant in Deming that proffers some of the very best wings, pizza and Italian food in the country. At a very homey milieu, chef-owner Bob Yacone and his family successfully recreated the food and camaraderie of their Buffalo, New York area upbringing, serving every diner with the same warmth and hospitality they offer friends and relatives for Sunday Italian family dinner. If Deming is just a bit out of the way, you’ll be thrilled to learn the Yacones have expanded their transformative restaurant. Just as the Covid lockdown hit, they launched a second Forghedaboudit. Located at the Picacho Hills Country Club in Las Cruces, the restaurant has expanded its already formidable menu, offering such innovative and inviting dishes as a Pernod cream sauce with green chile and jumbo shrimp. Bob assures me it will be “in the top ten most memorable dishes I’ve ever eaten.” He’s proven himself a prophet before. Let Forghedaboudit light up your taste buds.

Blueberry Strudel from Dagmar’s Delectables Bakery & German Specialties

Whether your chicken is paired with a side of waffles and maple syrup, piled high in a bucket, or served KFC-style (Korean fried chicken), there’s always something drool-worthy about the crunchiness of fried chicken. Fried chicken in its many forms vary at different price points and can be found typically coated in a delicious seasoned batter – pan-fried, deep fried, or pressure fried, making the chicken extra juicy on the inside and crispy on the outside.” In honor of National Fried Chicken Day (which should be a paid holiday) on July 6th, Yelp compiled a list of the “best fried chicken shops in every state.” According to Yelp, the very best fried chicken in the Land of Enchantment comes from Nexus Brewery in Albuquerque.

With record-breaking temperatures a standard feature of our locked down July, New Mexicans look for respite at the coolest places they can find (while socially distancing and wearing masks, of course). MSN Lifestyle compiled the coolest places for a frozen treat in across the fruited plain. Its feature, the best ice cream shop in every state, listed ice cream parlors which earn accolades from the press and public alike. New Mexico’s best ice cream comes from perennial choice La Lecheria in Santa Fe. Lifestyle noted: “Ever had mole or green chile ice cream? What about saffron rose? These are just a few of the local and seasonal flavors at La Lecheria in Santa Fe, alongside classics such as Vanilla Bean and Chocolate Sea Salt – which is said to be life-changing. Having trouble deciding? Order a flight of four scoops.”

Papaya Salad from Saigon 2 In Rio Rancho

Santa Fe’s incomparable Geronimo has been widely acknowledged by local and national media and legions of diners as the best restaurant in a city of great restaurants. More recently Sazon, another City Different fine-dining establishment, has been garnering the same type of praise lavished upon Geronimo. In Tripadvisor’s Traveler’s Choice for 2020, both were named among the best restaurants in the United States. Geronimo ranked sixth in a very prestigious pantheon of fine-dining establishments while Sazon was rated twelfth. Among the reasons both remain so highly regarded is their adaptability. In addition to its patio, Geronimo recently set up a tent in the parking lot to accommodate more guests, upping its capacity to 26 guests in nine tables. Similarly, Sazon has introduced a brand new courtyard for al fresco dining at its finest.

Food & Wine contends its Hatch chile smash burger is “the best burger on the internet,” indicating “this spicy, crispy, cheesy, swoon-inducing smash burger will have you going back for seconds thanks to the cheese and salsa that melt into a queso-like moment and take this burger to the next level.” The recipe calls for two tablespoons roasted, peeled, and chopped Hatch chiles (from fresh or thawed frozen chiles). How can you possibly go wrong?

June, 2020

Jerk Chicken Platter from Cowgirl in Santa Fe

My friend David Wagner, author of the spellbinding Rick Montoya Italian Mysteries, is a great conversationalist with a wry sense of humor. It stands to reason that his addictive books would be replete with witty bits of dialog. Take this exchange from A Funeral in Mantova between Rick and a comely lady companion over dinner:

You know, when I first saw you, I feared that you might be a vegetarian. You looked like the type.”
I was a vegan for a while in college, but it didn’t last long.”
What made you change your mind?

Contrary to Disneyland’s assertion, any place that serves bacon is the happiest place on earth. Just ask Benjamin Franklin who once declared “Bacon is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. MSN Lifestyle compiled a list of happy places which serve “The Best Bacon in Every State.” In New Mexico, the best bacon comes from Nelson’s Meats in Albuquerque. Here’s what MSN had to say: “Their mouthwatering, thick-sliced bacon isn’t the only thing Nelson’s Meats is known for. Their fiercely loyal customers can’t get enough of their friendly customer service. Some folks have been buying from Nelson’s for up to 30 years! (Tip from the locals: make sure you snag a few of their roasted green chiles when they’re in season.)

Clams From Farmhouse 21 in Albuquerque

Over the years, “click bait” features purporting to name New Mexico’s “best this” and “best that” have often confounded and mystified me–even when findings or data come from reputable sources. Take for example Daily Meal’s feature on “Every State’s Favorite Fast Food During Coronavirus.” Using market research from Top Data, Daily Meal contends New Mexico’s favorite lockdown fast food comes from Sonic. Okay, even if I can buy that, what’s with Daily Meal’s comment: “The most romantic adventure in New Mexico is at White Sands National Monument, though some might argue it’s a trip to Sonic.” Romantic and Sonic aren’t terms one normally associates with each other.

The Atlas Obscura mission is to inspire wonder and curiosity about the incredible world we all share. The global community of explorers, who have together created a comprehensive database of the world’s most wondrous places and foods, never ceases to amaze me. A recent compilation of “What to Eat and Drink in New Mexico” included a couple of items which have never crossed my lips: chocolate daisy and pumpkin spice jalapeno. What kind of gastronome would I be if I don’t immediately seek out these delights? Reviews forthcoming.

Sushi from Ohana Hut in Albuquerque

When traveling anywhere, Toni Dash, a professional writer/blogger, photographer, recipe developer and creator of Boulder Locavore® seeks out where locals eat. That’s how she enjoys the most authentic and well-priced foods. After a recent visit to Santa Fe, Toni not only shared tips for ordering like a local, she named several of the capital city’s best restaurants where locals eat. Among them are La Choza which she described as “off the beaten path, less touristed with authentic food full of spice and heat;” the snack bar at the Five and Dime which she credits as being “the home of the original Frito Pie;” Izanami where she discovered “upscale Japanese tapas in the mountains above Santa Fe at Ten Thousand Waves;” and The Hollar, a Madrid fixture which “serves a fusion of Southern cuisine with local ingredients.”

Whether you’re looking to venture beyond the California roll or you’re a longtime sushi enthusiast who prefers the omakase (aka “trust the chef”) menu, there are plenty of incredible sushi restaurants across the U.S. ” MSN Lifestyle tracked down “the top sushi restaurant in every state based on high marks from hungry customers and food critics alike.” Setting the bar across the Land of Enchantment is Sakura Sushi and Grill in Albuquerque which MSN described as “At the charming Sakura Sushi and Grill you’ll find a stellar lineup of well-priced sushi, sashimi, and elaborate rolls. You also may want to try the chirashi — a bowl of rice topped with a variety of fish — and the sushi tacos in fried wonton skins are a fun option. Be sure to ask for the kizami wasabi — the real deal fresh stuff instead of the dyed-green horseradish found most places.”

May, 2020

Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver Enjoys Brisket From Triple B’s in Rio Rancho

Though COVID-19 has left the restaurant industry in a tenuous position, the James Beard Foundation decided to offer “a glimmer of hope to an industry looking for light in a very dark time” by announcing finalists for the most coveted culinary awards. After being recognized six times as a semi-finalist for the Best Chef Southwest Award, Chef Jonathan Perno of Campo at Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque was named one of six finalists for the award.  With more than a decade spent at Los Poblanos, Chef Jonathan’s creativity and passion has truly crafted the Los Poblanos model of Rio Grande Valley Cuisine.  He is a fabulous chef and exemplar of what hard work and determination can build. 

The Travel Channel is renowned for its documentaries, reality, and how-to shows related to travel and leisure around the United States and throughout the world.  Many of us travel vicariously through the personalities who host those shows.  Over the past several weeks while we’ve been locked down, we’re more anxious than ever to resume our own exploration of the big, broad planet we call home.  Some of us are eager to explore the 50 states of BBQ, a compilation by the Travel Channel of “the best places to fill your plate in each state.”  According to the Travel Channel, the best barbecue in the Land of Enchantment can be found at Danny’s Place in Carlsbad.  You won’t get much of an argument from me.

April 2020

Chimichanga Plate From Burrito Express in Rio Rancho

“Restaurants are struggling right now to keep their doors open amid the coronavirus pandemic, so it’s never been more important to support local businesses. Business Insider teamed up with Yelp to determine the best takeout spot in every state. Yelp identified businesses in the restaurant category then ranked those spots using a number of factors, including the total volume and ratings of reviews between January 1, 2019, and March 27, 2020.” According to Yelp, the Land of Enchantment’s very best takeout spot is Dia De Los Takos, Albuquerque’s exemplar of creative taco and burger deliciousness. Because Dia De Los Takos transitioned in November, 2019 from a brick-and-mortar operation to a mobile food kitchen (that’s food truck to you, Bob), its hours might not be as regular so please make sure you check its business hours before heading out.

Howie Kaibel, the charismatic Community Manager for Yelp, has compiled a comprehensive list of restaurants offering takeout and/or delivery across the metropolitan area. While Howie is very well networked across the metropolitan area, this list would be incomplete without your input. Should you discover a restaurant that isn’t on the Yelp list, please send it his way by posting a comment on the link above.

Chicken Breast and Wing With Onion Rings from Chile Chicken Nashville Hot Chicken (Formerly Firebird)

A record 600,000 registered voters weighed in on Conde Naste Traveler’s 32nd annual Readers’ Choice Awards survey of the friendliest cities in the United States. “One of the reasons our readers love to rate the friendliest cities in the U.S. in our Readers’ Choice Awards survey is because it’s part of the fun of traveling—the connections you make, the locals who give you a glimpse into a place’s culture and lifestyle.” Readers decreed that Santa Fe is the tenth friendliest city across the fruited plain. Aside from the conviviality of Santa Fe’s citizenry, Conde Naste praised the city’s culinary scene: “With an array of excellent chefs, Santa Fe is perhaps known foremost for its New Mexican cuisine, but you can find everything from Mediterranean to Kenyan restaurants.”

Back in the good old days when it was possible to travel beyond the confines of your home, an energetic blogger named Alyssa created a site called The Present Explorer “to share my journey through this beautiful life!” Among the beautiful places she visited was New Mexico which she declared “will steal your heart.” Indeed. Alyssa shared that “New Mexico is the first state that I have traveled to where it felt like I was in a totally different country. It is full of history, vibrant color, adobe homes, gorgeous landscapes, tons of art, the most delicious food, and some of the kindest people I have ever come across. This place surely felt like home!” Among the Duke City restaurants she recommends are the Jealous Fork and La Crepe Michel. Her Santa Fe favorites include the Teahouse, the Plaza Cafe and The Pantry.

Double Meat Green Chile Cheeseburger from Mac’s Steak in the Rough in Rio Rancho

Grocery stores–they don’t just sell toilet tissue…and very recently, American consumers had to wonder if they’d ever again find it in good supply. The Daily Meal recognizes that grocery stores are integral to the fabric of American life, essential to day-to-day survival. As such, Daily Meal put together a list of the best grocery store in every state. The list included brick-and-mortar grocers, local markets, supermarkets, membership-only warehouse clubs and nationwide department store retailers that have supermarkets within their retail locations. Convenience stores, delis, farmers markets and technology-based shops were not considered. New Mexico’s best was La Montañita Co-Op. Here’s what Daily Meal had to say: “La Montañita Co-op is known for its abundance of local and organic foods. There are five New Mexico stores and a grab-and-go location on the University of New Mexico campus, placing the school among the best colleges for food. Locals can purchase co-op memberships, which are $15 per year and $200 for life; these “member-owners” have access to a wide variety of deep discounts, but a membership is not required to shop there.” (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)

The Daily Meal contends that “Most of America is staying home as a way to mitigate risks of the coronavirus spreading, so people across the country are trying to get their favorite food fix from their own kitchens. With a little help from search engines, quarantine cooks are scoring recipes for everything from chicken salad to margaritas, and there are trends in each state.” Daily Meal compiled the top uniquely searched recipes in Google from across America in the past 90 days and in each state over the past 30 days. New Mexicans are searching for tortilla recipes, just a couple of generations removed from most home cooks across the Land of Enchantment making their own tortillas at home. Here’s what Daily Meal had to say: “Sure, you can order takeout from your favorite Mexican restaurant, but if you’ve been trying to save money by cooking at home, tortilla recipes are a must for many Mexican dishes. If you start making your own tortillas at home, try them as chicken tacos with salsa verde and crema.” (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)

March, 2020

Green Chile Cheeseburger with Fries from El Patio on Rio Grande

“The person with whom you would most want to travel.” That’s usually a description reserved for friends and family, but might also apply to Samantha Brown, one of the most down-to-earth and engaging personalities on television. Long a fixture on The Travel channel, in 2017 Samantha created a new show on PBS called “Samantha Brown’s Places to Love.” Her fun-loving style and an approach that is “less expert, less host and more a person you would want to travel with” has made her a favorite with those of us who live vicariously with others fortunate enough to travel this wide, wonderful, wondrous world. From among all the places to which she’s traveled, Samantha returns most often to Santa Fe.

In season two of Places to Love, Samantha showcased New Mexico’s state capital, introducing viewers to the city’s cultural and historical diversity as well as Santa Fe’s culinary scene. She enjoyed a breakfast burrito at Tia Sophia’s where she was joined by Ricardo Cate, the country’s only Native American cartoonist in a mainstream newspaper. For dinner, Samantha visited Tomasita’s, a Santa Fe institution for Northern New Mexican cuisine. At a time when most of us are sequestered at home, watching this episode will bring a smile to your face at the prospect of once again being able to travel to places we love and enjoy our favorite foods at the restaurants which bring joy and sustenance to our lives.

NM Baby from Lila & Liam Bistro in Rio Rancho (Photo Courtesy of Sarita)

USA Today’s 10Best feature purports to provide trusted travel and lifestyle advice to its readers. All too often I’ve called into question the credibility of such features when they’re written by travel or culinary experts who don’t actually live within New Mexico’s enchanted borders. That wasn’t the case when photographer extraordinaire Bruce Terzes alerted me to a 10Best feature entitled “The best green chile cheeseburger in New Mexico.” Seeing Ashley Biggers name on the byline gave the article instant credibility. Unlike so many other “experts,” Ashley actually calls Albuquerque home.

So, when Ashley says New Mexico’s best green chile cheeseburger comes from Sparky’s in Hatch, it would behoove us to heed her words. Sparky’s is the brainchild of husband and wife duo Teako and Josie Nunn who were recently nominated for a James Beard Award in the Best Chef: Southwest category. What makes Sparky’s sacrosanct burger so special. Teako “keeps the burger recipe simple, allowing the ingredients to shine. It starts with ground Black Angus chuck. The staff makes the patties fresh each morning and sizzles them on a 700-degree grill until the patties char. We don’t cloud the burger with mushrooms or Swiss cheese or fancy add-ons.”

Baba Ghanoush from Jerusalem: A Taste of the Holy Land in Rio Rancho

March 14th is National Pie Day, a celebration of Pi, a constant value used in math that represents the ratio of a circumference of a circle to its diameter (about 3.14). My friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, can probably carry pi out to a million digits, but for the non-scientific types among us, carrying home one slice of pie is probably more important. In honor of National Pie Day, Google compiled a list of the most uniquely searched pies in each state. Google data reveals that the most unique pie searched for by New Mexicans is millionaire pie, a choice which has just a bit more credibility than another Google search analysis claiming that before the Super Bowl, New Mexicans were obsessed with pea and peppercorn mash. (Thank you, Alonna Smith)

February, 2020

Torta De Huevo with Calabasitas and Frijoles from ABQ City Limits

Time Magazine is credited with being the first to call the James Beard Awards, “the Oscars of the food world,” and the term has caught on. Celebrating their 30th year, James Beard Awards are widely considered most coveted and comprehensive honor a chef, restaurant or culinary professional can achieve. The James Beard Foundation list of semifinalists for 2020 includes several chef luminaries from the Land of Enchantment:

  • Chef Johnny Ortiz of Shedin La Madera was nominated for the Rising Star Chef of the Year award. Chef Ortiz, who was profiled in an article in the March, 2020 edition of New Mexico Magazine, forages for or raises the ingredients with which he prepares his reservation-only meals.
  • Josie and Teako Nunn of Sparky’s Burgers, Barbeque, & Espresso in Hatch were nominated in the Best Chef: Southwest category (Arizona, Nevada, Oklahoma and New Mexico). Their nomination is somewhat of a departure from the Foundation’s leaning toward fine-dining establishments, but is certainly well-deserved.
  • Chef Fernando Olea of Santa Fe’s Sazon was nominated in the Best Chef: Southwest category. Recognized as the 2019 Restaurateur of the Year by the New Mexico Restaurant Association, Chef Olea is a beloved local institution in the state capital.
  • Chef Jonathan Perno, executive chef of Campo at Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm, was nominated in the Best Chef Southwest category. The six time semifinalist is a native New Mexican who has coined the term Rio Grande Valley Cuisine.
Lamburger from the Marigold Cafe

Food writer Laurie Colwin declared “To feel safe and warm on a cold wet night, all you really need is soup.” Temperatures dropped to 25-degrees on February 1st, 2020, but an estimated 1,200 people who attended Santa Fe’s 26th annual Souper Bowl fundraiser felt safe and warm after having enjoyed soups prepared by 24 Santa Fe chefs. Soups were evaluated in four categories: savory, vegetarian, cream and seafood.

  • Agave Restaurant and Lounge took the savory category with its winter squash soup topped with granny smith apples, pumpkin seeds and mole onions.
  • The seafood soup category was won by the Santa Fe School of Cooking with avocado gazpacho with seared scallops.
  • Multi-time Souper Bowl award-winner Jambo Café won the vegetarian category with a ginger coconut and parsnip soup.
  • Del Charro at the Inn of the Governors earned the best creamy soup distinction with its creamy green chile chicken chowder.
  • The best soup honor went to L’Olivier for its chocolate cherry Espelette pepper soup, a chocolate cream-based soup topped with almonds and chile cherries.

Proceeds from the Souper Bowl benefit The Food Depot, which serves more than 440,000 meals per month to people in Northern New Mexico.

Spectacular Mural at Urban Taqueria Honors the Evolution of Mexican Cuisine

Chef’s Pencil, a website which purports to feature content for all levels of cooks and foodies uses data to support its contention that “while Americans’ food choices are incredibly varied, there is a clear battle for supremacy at the top of the charts.” Using Google analytics, Chef’s Pencil crunched the numbers of internet searches for ethnic cuisines to determine the most popular ethnic cuisines in America. The two most popular ethnic cuisines were deemed to be Mexican and Chinese. Denizens of the East prefer Chinese cuisine while the West goes for the Mexican food. Data shows that Mexican cuisine is the most popular ethnic cuisine in 27 states–including New Mexico. Obviously, the data doesn’t distinguish between Mexican and New Mexican or even between Mexican and Tex Mex. According to KRQE, New Mexicans are pretty expressive about their preference for New Mexican cuisine.

Eat This, Not That!, a website which claims to cover all aspects of…”food trends, and the best and worst foods on the planet” used Yelp data to assemble a list of the best Italian restaurant in every state. Savvy Yelp critics love Rio Rancho’s Joe’s Pasta House, a paragon of pizza and exemplar of service excellence. Here’s what the site had to say about Joe’s: “For an excellent sit-down Italian experience with a bit of added southwest flair, nothing can compare to Joe’s Pasta House when you visit New Mexico. The menu boasts a classic mix of Sicilian favorites like gnocchi and veal marsala alongside New Mexican green chile ravioli, making it a great standout from the average Italian eatery. When you feel tired of the same old Italian and want an eatery with a twist, it can’t get better than this.”

The “Cheesy Beef” an Italian Beef Sandwich Blanketed in Melted Provolone from AK Deli

Eat This, Not That! knows “there’s something special about eating a gourmet burger—one that has fancy condiments, a special bun, or a slice of artisanal cheese.” Its compilations of the best burger in every state shows the vast diversity and creativity of burgers in the gourmet genre. Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun don’t fit the bill anymore, especially when you can drive to Roswell to enjoy a tomahawk burger at Big D’s Downtown Dive. Here’s what Eat This, Not That! had to say: “An open-faced burger? It’s a real thing at this New Mexico joint. Loaded with guacamole, black beans, iceberg lettuce, and more, this burger is simply too massive to fit between two buns.”

As revered as James Beard may be, every once in a while he displayed a rather condescending nature. For example, he once declared that “Too few people understand a really good sandwich.” That statement might be true of Subway’s devotees, but by and large, the United States is a nation which loves and understands its sandwiches. So does Eat This, Not That! which put together a list of the absolute best sandwich in every state. As decreed by Yelp critics, New Mexico’s best sandwich is the green chile meatball sub at 2G’s Bistro in Albuquerque: “Not only can you get some of the best sandwiches in town at this bistro, but you can also get some of the best brunches at this place, too. At 2G’s Bistro, you can choose from tuna sliders, a green chile meatballs sub, or even a carne burrito sandwich. Evidently, the green chile meatball sub is to die for. One Yelp reviewer goes as far to say that the first bite melts into your mouth.”

Torta de Barbacoa from Elotes Del Rancho in Rio Rancho

Food & Wine advises that “for pilgrimage-worthy breakfasts, late-night hangs, and one-of-a-kind regional dishes,” readers should look to the classics anointed “the best diners in America.” Food & Wine’s choice as New Mexico’s very best diner is Santa Fe’s revered institution, The Pantry: “Blue corn hot cakes redolent with cinnamon, home fries mingling with red chile, omelets bursting with chorizo, carne adovada with your scrambs—let’s say you weren’t so much feeling those New Mexico vibes before you got here, to one of the state capital’s most iconic restaurants; one breakfast should put you right, and then some. Since the 1940s, this has been a prime go-to for locals and visitors, and while it’s rare to find a diner this famous holding itself to such a high standard, that’s what keeps everyone coming back, no matter how busy the place can get. Consider returning later in the day—the restaurant’s green chile is some of the most sought-after in town.”

Round up the usual suspects” seems to be the unintended operating practice of The Daily Meal whose monthly “best” lists seem to be repeats of the previous year’s lists. As an essayist of New Mexico’s culinary condition, it’s hard for me to believe something new and different hasn’t come around to supplant the favorites of yesteryear, maybe something like Shugarman’s Little Chocolate Shop in Madrid which earned “Best Chocolate Shop” distinction for the Land of Enchantment. Here are February’s other Daily Meal choices:

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

Year in Review: 202120202019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014| 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010

41 thoughts on “Red or Green: New Mexico’s Food Scene Was On Fire in 2020

  1. Like to start 2021 with this description of what Food & Wine magazine just named the best sandwich in New Mexico. Whether you agree or not at least the national mags have moved on Green Chile Turkey Club. ⬇︎

    “Some day, it’s quite possible we’ll look back and ask ourselves, “Why did it take so long for everyone to figure out that asadero cheese works really well on a Reuben, possibly better than Swiss?” It melts better, serving to further cultivate an ambiance of decadence, always welcome when we’re talking Reubens; it tastes better with the corned beef, too. Should this idea ever go wide, make sure to credit Marie Yniguez, proprietor of Slow Roasted Bocadillos in Albuquerque, where the Duke City Ruben, one of the most popular offerings at the city’s favorite sandwich shop, starts from scratch with slow-cooked corned beef, topped with housemade sauerkraut and a chipotle-infused dressing, which brings a nice heat to the situation.”

    1. Tom, Food & Wine is rather late to the party. Take a look at Gil’s review of Bocadilllo where he features a photo of Marie’s glorious Reuben and notes the following:

      29 July 2013: The chef’s choice…the sandwich of which Marie is most proud is the Duke City Ruben (slow-roasted corned beef, housemade kraut, chipotle 1000 Island dressing finished off with melted Asadero cheese on lite rye). Quite simply, it may be the very best Reuben sandwich in Albuquerque. My friend Sarita certainly thinks so. The Duke City Ruben is the embodiment of the slow-roasting process, taking no less than twelve hours to achieve its tender texture and moistness throughout as well as a sweet caramelization on the surface of each tendril of the corned beef. The housemade sauerkraut doesn’t have the lip-pursing qualities of some sauerkraut, but that’s a good thing. It’s made with a red cabbage tinged with the distinctive flavor of caraway seeds. The Chipotle-Thousand Island dressing, also made on the premises, is fabulous, too.

      1. Becky, your post made me jolt out of the house and motor straight to Bocadillos for lunch today. Never been there. I tried to get Gil to join me but he was waiting for the delivery of a new refrigerator. That would be the only lunch rejection excuse I would accept since a refrigerator to Gil is water to a Bedouin.

        Covid lockdown is horrible except for its silver (or culinary) lining. Months ago I was able to do takeout at Sparky’s in Hatch and enjoy for the first time its famed green chile cheeseburger on a picnic table. I have tried several times in the past to eat at Sparky’s but the rather longish line outside the place made me keep driving past.

        Gil told me Bocadillos’ (inside the Wells Fargo building downtown) parking situation is horrible. It’s not now. The entire Wells Fargo parking lot is empty and unattended by a pay booth. It’s got more parking spaces than a kennel has fleas. There’s no seating in Bocadillos (pre-Covid was only maybe six stools at a counter), ergo I happily ate a very good Duck City Reuben in the car listening to a Warren Zevon CD.

        It’s everything Gil describes and more so I have nothing to add other than I will refrain from naming it the “Best Reuben in Albuquerque). That moniker I accorded, up to this moment, to Vinaigrette. So I will have to have Vinaigrette’s again and then submit my decision. Meanwhile, with the Southwestern slant of Bocadillos ingredients I am leaning (decision-wise not meat) to Bocadillos. Especially since Bocadillos Reuben is $11.50 and Vinaigrette’s is $17.00.

        1. Tom, you sure didn’t waste any time getting to Bocadillos and I say well done insofar as timing goes – available and free parking is certainly a plus. Too bad Gil was tied up with domestic matters – he could have introduced you to Marie Yniguez – she is so creative and a really great chef. I think Sarita knows her, too. I never miss a food show when Marie is featured – I’ve seen her on D D & D as well as a number of cooking competitions and I’m looking forward to your final verdict on the “Best Reuben in Albuquerque”. Your caveat about it having a Southwestern slant is pretty important – along with that huge difference in price point.

          1. I did meet and have a short chat with Marie about business conditions rather than food ingredients. Her walk-up window and takeaway model works for those who eat in their vehicles but not for those seeking either an inside (none) or outside (none) table.

            Her original model was to have a few seats inside and have office workers takeout their order and bring it back to an office. (Wells Fargo Bldg. is at the 200 block of 2nd Street and adjacent to downtown businesses and government offices.)

            With workers working remotely, and not in their offices, she’s not getting any where near the foot traffic she had B.C. (Before Covid). You live in upstate NY, right? How are the restaurants doing?

            1. Hi Tom: I’m really glad you got to meet Marie. I’m sure she’s having a tough go of it right now – hopefully she’ll make it through. I was watching D D & D Friday night and it occurred to me that eating in our vehicles these days is not unlike the once thriving drive-in culture. Being of a “certain age”, I have fond memories of those times.

              It has been interesting here in NY, to say the least. I’m in the Western NY area near Buffalo. COVID numbers have been up and down with new lockdown edicts regularly issued by the governor based upon circumstances of the moment. Most dining establishments have been pretty creative and their efforts have received really good public support. A number of our regional small business owners , including those in the restaurant industry, recently launched legal challenges to the government’s practice of forbidding or severely curtailing indoor dining as well as mandating closings, and the courts have ruled in their favor. It seems there are no regulations on the books that allow this from a legal perspective. It remains to be seen how this works out long term.

  2. Like its famed enchiladas drowned in blankets of red and green chile sauce, Albuquerque is swimming in traditional New Mexican restaurants. While the city has a strong culinary identity rooted in classic Southwestern flavors, its food scene is truly as diverse as its people. The restaurants that define it include low-key staples as well as buzzy trendsetters, all of which make Albuquerque one of the best places to eat in the region. These are the essential eats of ABQ.

  3. Having met Gil, I can attest that he has a voice (and face) made for radio!

    J/K, but he does have a soothing voice. He’d have to to convince you to eat an octopus stuffed turkey for Thanksgiving or something crazy like that!

  4. Hi Gil,

    To be fair, it was you who first made the observation that green chile improves everything it touches. But they are words I live by. An ice cream sundae topped with green chile and chopped pecans? Yes, please! It’s just too bad we have to go all the way to Alamogordo or Las Cruces to partake in this. Which begs the question: Why has no other ice cream shop thought of this? You can find all types of candy enhanced with both red and green chile. Pastries with green chile are becoming more and more common. Why not take it an extra step and add it to frozen treats? Anyone have any idea why this seems to be a Southern NM thing? If it’s not, please enlighten me!

    1. You could have misspelled Albuquerque on your delightful post and only the persnickety among us would even have noticed, but in New Mexico it’s a mortal sin and capital offense to misspell chile.

      I’ve been enjoying Finding The Universe very much and hope someday soon to return to your hometown of Aquae Sulis, one of my very favorite cities in England. We lived in the Cotswolds for three years and spent a lot of time in Bath. You’re blessed to live there.

  5. Aah yes….”different” Mangoneada!!! from Pop Fizz. Hope Birrieria Y Tacos Alex Tijuana Style turns the food truck (Mobile Kitchen to you Gil) so when its serving windows are open, it makes it look like its open vs being “stored” at the Pop Fix parking lot.
    Tip of the day…lest ya missed it: Given many Folks might be getting tired of cooking at home while being down to mostly pasta dishes:

  6. Legendary white cheese chile relleno for sure. Been there. Had that. Will have again. And again. I can’t chant canticles of praise enough for Chope’s.

  7. Hi, Gil. I’ve been hoping your estimable blog would help me find a great chile relleno made with white cheese not, heaven help me, cheddar. No offense, Wisconsin. After reading a plethora of your reviews, I haven’t seen mention of the elusive nosh. Can you point the way? Muchas gracias, hermano.

    1. Hi Diane

      Off the top of my head, the closest you’ll find in Albuquerque to a chile relleno made with white cheese is at La Salita where you can ask for your relleno to be stuffed with cheddar cheese, Swiss-American cheese or avocado. If you’re willing to travel a little, Chopes in La Mesa makes a legendary white cheese chile relleno. There are a number of restaurants in the Las Cruces area which use white cheese (usually a Menonite variety) on their Mexican and New Mexican entrees, including on their con queso.

      Please let me know if you’re successful in your quest.


      1. As I don’t mind cheddar in my chile relleno, that’s not something I tend to remember about my relleno plate. I want to say the rellenos at Cocina Azul are made with white cheese. Like I said, i can’t be certain.

        I also want to say that Little Anita’s rellenos are made with white cheese as well…but again, can’t be certain.

        Next time I go to either place, I will let you know for sure…

        1. I had Little Anita’s for lunch on Wednesday, and went with the combination plate (only because it came with a relleno, and I was doing research…:-)). Upon cutting the top of the relleno off, a white gooey and melty cheese began to ooze out lovingly and enticingly.

          Needless to say, that is some of the funnerst research I’ve ever done.

          I hope to check out The Blue Kitchen sometime in the next couple of weeks…

          1. Thank you so much, I appreciate the confirmation and will try both Little Anita’s and Cucina Azul. Happy researching! (-:

          2. Thank you, Captain Tuttle. In your painstaking research I’m surprised you haven’t ever mentioned Stufy’s, not for its chile rellenos, but for that gigantic Gorilla Burger. Stufy’s has been a Duke City presence even longer than you have.

            1. It’s been years since I’ve been to Stufy’s. I always liked the apple pie, and the chicken with guacamole ones. Liked the hamburger one too.

              If I’m not mistaken, I think the owners are from the Peñasco area, I think. Seem to recall a conversation with them years ago, but can’t be positive…

        2. Thank you! I’ve been meaning to try Little Anita’s and will give it a shot ASAP…like maybe even today, haha. (-:

      2. Wow, I checked out Chopes and would love to sample their cooking. At this time they are closed but hopefully will reopen when pandemic restrictions lift.

        Due to the distance, it will have to wait anyway until a road trip takes me that far south. But thanks for the heads up.

  8. Hi Tom:

    I couldn’t reply directly to your post on George Geary and his book “LA’s Legendary Restaurants” – Gil’s site only allows a certain number of replies to comments so here goes. Yes, it’s pricey for the hard cover and hard to find. B & N has it as an ebook for $17.99.

    I’m not terribly familiar with Geary but he is an award-winning chef and seems to sell a lot of books. On Goodreads, the reviews gave him a 4.3 out of 5 rating. For a much better look at his book, check this out:

    1. Too funny! Thanks for another great link that shows several pages of Geary’s book…if ya click the upside-down, triangle arrow. lower right corner. One page shows a Gal pouring CC’s fudge. A minor celeb ya say? Ever hear of Haya Harareet? (OK, I hadn’t.) Check here; the movie should be obvious given who she is with…LOL Geesh! she played Esther, but apparently not much else.

  9. Gil – who is this Tzerkes person you mention and why is he using my web photo page? I thought I was your “photographer extraordinaire”!

    1. Aaargh! Forgive me, Bruce. My speling is turrible. Not only are you an extraordinary photographer, you are a gentleman and a scholar. I’ll correct my SNAFU.

    1. Thanks, Becky, for the link. I have never seen a single episode of a Samantha Brown show. Watched the Santa Fe episode and found her to be an enthusiastic portal for viewers to experience the wonderful land-scapes, art-scapes, and food-scapes of New Mexico.

      Gee, in the 15 years I have been a New Mexico resident I have never had a “red chile rimmed” margarita! Question for you: In the Tomasita’s segment, the owner defined “Northern New Mexican-style cooking” as “red and green chile. That’s it. No other definition.

      As a corollary to the above, how would cooks at Chope’s in Las Cruces describe “Southern New Mexican-style” cooking given its wonderful red and green chile dishes?

      1. Hi Tom:

        I’m glad you enjoyed the Samantha Brown episode on Santa Fe. If you’re not already familiar with it, you might want to look into the Santa Fe Margarita Trail – there are some very unique versions featured by the various participating restaurants and bars:

        As for Southern versus Northern New Mexican styles of cooking, I daresay we might need Gil to write up some kind of tome like “New Mexican Cuisine for Dummies”. Lacking that immediate reference, Gil may well correct me on a lot of my observations but here goes.

        As a result of your question and after looking up a ton of information, I’d venture to guess that the geographic location of an establishment prompts them to use the related description of either Southern or Northern. From there, it seems that Southern New Mexico cooking is more simplistic and basic whereas Northern cooking, as claimed by Santa Fe, can sometimes be a bit more sophisticated.

        The enchilada provides an example – there are obvious crossovers where you see both rolled or stacked enchiladas. Enchiladas served Christmas style are popular from one end of New Mexico to the other. I’ve noticed that blue corn tortillas are common in Northern cooking but rare in the South. Gil has often noted that stacked enchiladas are more typical in the North – as served at Tomasita’s – versus rolled, as served at Chope’s.

        So – it apparently comes down to the chile itself. As a sommelier, you’ll appreciate the fact that terroir has a lot to do with chiles but I won’t get into that here. Chope’s would seemingly describe Southern New Mexico cooking as based upon Southern New Mexico chiles aka the Hatch chile. For example, Gil describes Chope’s red chile thusly: “The red chile is a deep red, wholly unlike most of the red chile served in restaurants throughout northern New Mexico. The color and flavor are reminiscent of a good chile Caribe (concentrated chile made from dried red chile pods, blended and processed to a smooth consistency)”. Chile Caribe concentrate is often used as the basis for Southern New Mexico chile which means it can be pretty incendiary.

        On the other hand, Northern New Mexico is fond of the Chimayo chile which is now so expensive that a substitution is generally made. The Chimayo is commonly described as “sweet, earthy, and smoky, without being too hot”. When a substitute is used, such as Hatch red chile powder, it will likely be quite a bit milder than chile Caribe.

        1. Well now my brain is on parboil after reading this article titled “Delicias Cafe
          Shows Differences Between Southern and Northern New Mexican Food” in the ABQ Journal.

          Which states, “Northern cuisine, inspired by pueblo culture and Santa Fe, is all about the heat and creative preparation; southern New Mexico food is reliable, consistent, easy.”

          Is this writer saying Northern NM food has more heat? I am not convinced. Perhaps Gil can convince me?

          And yet, we have Gil’s review of Delicias Cafe in 2016: within which he waxes wonderful about Delicias “Mexican-style” food.

          I suspect the differences of southern v northern is, as you say Becky, a matter of proximity, and is best explored geographically and culturally. Maybe even politically?

          1. Tom, I was confused by that review, too, but after I re-read Gil’s extensive review of Delicias, I agree with you. From what I understand, they serve Mexican-style food, not New Mexican food, and there are plenty of references to jalapenos but not to New Mexican chile. Having traveled extensively in Mexico, I can honestly say I never found the food to be very “hot” or spicy. Nor have I ever found native American cuisine to be especially hot or spicy. If it’s supposed to be, then I must be eating in all the wrong places. With that said, my money is on Gil when it comes to defining and reviewing food – he knows his chile – and I think the author of that article was quite possibly mistaken.

            With that said, I’m pretty sure you can find examples of hot and spicy food all over New Mexico but we were discussing chile, not jalapenos. And the definition of “hot” varies with individuals as well as chiles. It’s increasingly hard to make general statements because so much of today’s cuisine is “imported” from other areas or it becomes fusion cooking in some way or anther. As you point out, it’s likely best to explore regional food geographically and historically / culturally. I’m abstaining from any political exploration which, in today’s environment, is just looking for trouble.

          2. Put a savvy foodie from Las Cruces and a gastronome from Albuquerque in the same room (preferably not a kitchen well stocked with knives) and you’re bound to start a culinary civil war. Such was the case when I worked at Intel with a colleague who was born-and-bred in the City of Crosses. We were both adamant that the cuisine in our half of the state (mine being the upper half) was far superior to cuisine in the other (lower in her case) half. We debated every nuance that made our preferred cuisine distinctive from the other. We argued about the prominence of Mexican and Native American culinary influences, the preferred degree of piquancy in each region, whether or not cumin has any place in New Mexican cuisine, even whether the biscochito can truly be New Mexico’s official state cookie if it’s not as common in Southern New Mexico.

            My colleague would frequently accuse all “Norteños” (and by extension, me) of thinking we were superior to denizens of the Southern part of the state. She railed that Norteños believe ourselves to be “pure-blooded” Spaniards transplanted to the new land, bypassing Mexico entirely. She boasted that Southern New Mexicans, on the other hand, were proudly intermixed with Mexicans. In her estimation these differences even manifested themselves in the way Norteños regard our cuisine—as better, more delicious…more pure.

            The truth is, the two cuisines probably don’t differ enough to warrant a heated debate. There is as much to love in New Mexican cuisine in the North as there is in the South. Moreover, the distinction between the two isn’t usually determined broadly by geographical location, but at a more finite level–by kitchen. In every kitchen across the Land of Enchantment, New Mexicans prepare our beloved cuisine differently…just as they have for generations. Discerning diners should shout “Viva La Differencia” with mucho gusto. What could be more fun than exploring the subtleties of New Mexican cuisine prepared with just a delicate gradation of difference?

            One culinary commonality, of course, is the love both Norteños and residents of Southern New Mexico have for chile. There’s a reason it’s the Land of Enchantment’s official state vegetable. When it comes to piquancy, however, it’s been my experience that some New Mexicans–irrespective of region–like their chile hot and some don’t. Neither region’s denizens can claim superior tolerance to chiles with a high concentration of capsaicinoids. And while Norteños can boast of the superiority of Chimayo red, there’s just not enough of it produced to sate us all. Most of the chiles used throughout the state do come from the state’s lower half–Hatch, of course, but also Lemitar, Socorro, Deming, Jarales and other fecund areas.

            Rather than squabbling like the prickly, contentious British Parliament, my colleague and I could have spared ourselves hours of rancor by breaking sopaipillas together at restaurants in both Northern and Southern New Mexico. With detente based on a shared meal, we might even have become friends. Think of the missed opportunities to compare the best of the north against its southern counterpart

            Insofar as the Albuquerque Journal review, I suspect Jason has probably heard an earful about his faux pas in proclaiming Delicia’s Café as an exemplar of the differences between Northern and Southern New Mexico’s cuisine. Delicia’s may showcase dishes similar to those served across the Land of Enchantment (and even across our eastern border in Tex-Mex restaurants), but at Delicia’s they’re prepared in the style of Northern Mexico (not NEW Mexico). Thank goodness we have options, subtle and nuanced though they may be sometimes. Life would be boring if it were more homogeneous.

    2. Well darn ya Mz Becky for piquing my interest beyond what should have actually occurred by Gil’s enticing references…the sharing RE Sam Brown! Seriously? How distracting trying to watch these travelogues by having such a fetchingly vivacious Chica Honchaing them!? Additionally, I was depressingly reminded of letting my ‘traveling’ wane over the years which stirs up the thorn of jealousy.
      I did manage to watch Orange County and then Fanta Se whereby I had to pause. Interestingly and pleasantly unexpectedly, she takes you (well maybe just me) somewhat off the beaten tourist path in both: e.g. I never heard of the Dale Ball nature trail on the eastern edge of SF, nor knew of the art collection now since my last visit to The Roundhouse, nor that the culinary foundress of Tomasitas was Greek…as so many were in my MA hometown which neighbors hers of NH…and that Georgia appreciates one of my FAV Folk artists as hanging in T’s. 
      One of the most jarring, for lack of a better term, feature in the SF episode is the revelation that there is such a person as an Indian Cartoonist of all things!  Well ya….Du-uh!…albeit many Folk can be rather stoic-like/taciturn when it comes to humor.
      Lastly, while not to take away from her career’s individuality (whatever that means), a missing something for me is the ‘exclusion’ sorta speak, of her behind-the-scenes, husband.

      1. Hi Bob :

        I’m very happy that you enjoyed a couple of the Samantha Brown shows. I thought you’d like them. She has a very creative and refreshing approach and covers a lot of things that are new to many of us. You can see her with her husband Kevin O’Leary and their twins on an Oregon RV road trip in season one. I think Kevin is the producer of her shows.

        Ricardo Tate, the Native American cartoonist featured in her Santa Fe show, is a New Mexico treasure. His cartoons are funny but very poignant.

        If you’re interested in travel shows, many of the Rick Steves shows can be viewed on line – click on any country of interest and you’ll get a full listing of all relevant shows. The link is

        While I’m on the subject of videos, you might be interested in a few of those posted on line by the Culinary Historians of Southern California – they’re basically lectures given by various food authorities and some are way better than others. Once at the web site, scroll down to “more articles” and you’ll see a full listing. The web site is:

        1. Yo Thanks for the references…am in the middle of a slo-playing vid…LOL…of an enjoyable George Geary…who I’ve never heard of before. I’ll be passing info on to a BLOG of Old LA Timers who are nostalgic about working and/or dining in LA ‘s casual and fine dining places “of an age”…LOL
          Be Best! Be Safe!
          PS…re RE Northern/Southern NM stuff: Faralito-Luminaria….Eh! ya can put the whole of your neighbor New England into NM with room left over. Talk about diversity! Ya gotcha lobstaah in Baah Haahbah compared to the nuances of Mystic Pizza while throwing in comparisons of Julia Roberts with Angela Lansbury, respectively!
          Sad to see the seafood industry is taking a licking back there per CoVid while NM suffers from dropping oil prices whereby 40% of NM state budget is from Extractive fees/taxes as income as oil rigs shut down. But I wander…..

          1. Bob, you must have watched the George Geary video on “LA’s Legendary Restaurants” – I loved it. He sure has some interesting stories that relate to his book of the same title. I’ve had that book on my “Want List” forever – one of these days I’ll get around to ordering it. I wish he’d do a book on LA delis – he mentioned several in his presentation including Canter’s, Langer’s, and Greenblatt’s.

            The LA Public Library has an excellent collection of old restaurant menus that you can search by restaurant name:

            The NY Public Library has an online menu collection that you can actually browse (at one time, you could browse the LA Public Library collection but I couldn’t find that capability again):

            1. Becky, it appears Geary’s book is only available in hardcover (pub. 2016) and costs $26 to $30 Amazon Prime and even more on eBay. Perused the table of contents and identified many restaurants I frequented when I lived there (1978-1985) and later on business in the ’90s.

              Is Geary a good writer?

  10. 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.
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