“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.
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.”
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)
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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:
- Best Special Occasion Restaurant in Every State – The Anasazi Restaurant in Santa Fe
- Most Romantic Restaurant In Every State – Geronimo in Santa Fe
- Best Chocolate Shop In Every State – Shugarman’s Little Chocolate Shop in Madrid
- Best Brunch in Every State – The Pantry in Santa Fe
“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).
“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)
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 Pinto. She 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.
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 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)
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)
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)
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 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: