Red or Green–New Mexico’s Food Scene is on Fire: February, 2021

Quart of Motzo Ball Soup from Ruthie’s Bagels

In 2019, Gustavo Arellano, features writer at the Los Angeles Times and author of Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered Americas took a “palate-scorching Mexican hamburger- and adovada-fueled road trip up I-25 from Las Cruces” to Denver for Eater.  In a feature entitled The Great American Chile Highway, Arellano sampled endorphin rush-generating cuisine at 21 eateries in the Land of Enchantment and another 18 in Colorado, eating chile 38 different ways.  His controversial conclusion is that Pueblo’s mirasol chile is superior to the more highly touted chile from Hatch.  During a recent visit to Pueblo, he reinforced that stance when interviewed by the Pueblo Chieftain, not only proclaiming Pueblo chile superior, but giving a similar nod to Pueblo’s “thick, salty, irregularly shaped beauty” of a tortilla.

Rising to the defense of his preferred piquant pepper, Arellano proclaimed he won’t stand for “Hatch picking on Pueblo.”  “New Mexico needs to allow Pueblo to have its moment in the sun because it is its faraway cousin. They are related,” he told The Chieftain.  “So for new Mexico to keep trashing Pueblo over its chile – it’s like that bully in the family, the older cousin that keeps making fun of its younger cousin. So as someone who has no family in this debate, I will not stand for that.”  To date New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan-Grisham hasn’t publicly commented or banished Arellano from the state’s enchanted borders.

Pork Rinds from Ms. Gennie’s House of Chicken

The tourism slogan “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” may have elements of truth, but not when it comes to the 19th season of Hell’s Kitchen, the popular culinary competition where eighteen chefs from around the country are put through rigorous culinary challenges that involve high stakes rewards and punishments.  In every episode the chefs do their very best to impress tyrannical chef Gordon Ramsay, the fiery Scotsman whose belittling and critical ways have been known to make chefs cry.  Albuquerque’s Marc Quinones, executive chef at Mas Tapas Y Vino, has now withstood the rigors of Hell’s Kitchen as well as Ramsay’s berating polemics for eight episodes.  Though New Mexicans are rooting for him, deep down we fear he’ll win the competition and leave Albuquerque to helm the Hell’s Kitchen in Reno.

Famadillo.com, the self-professed “family magazine for tips, travel and tidbits” spent a week in Santa Fe and “learned it can be quite a culinary paradise.”  During that week, the authors visited a number of the City Different’s many restaurants and published a list of the “top eleven restaurants in Santa Fe.”   The list included tried and true favorites such as Geronimo, The Pantry, Cowgirl Cafe, Tune Up Cafe and The Plaza Cafe and not surprisingly even restaurants your wandering gastronome has yet to visit.  Among those are Palacio Cafe, Verde, Paloma and Radish and Rye. 

Slice of Blueberry Pie from Pastian Bakery

Bon Apetit “Trader Joe’s Kicks Off 2021 With Hell in a Jar” showcases a number of new products including “the hottest, spiciest product it’s ever sold.”  Among the new products are Hatch Chile Chicken Wraps which the article’s author described as: “Pop one of these hexagons into the oven and your lunch can be a crispy, somewhat dry flour tortilla containing a few tender bites of almost spicy chicken, black beans, and goo sauce. On a walk after this lunch, my partner proclaimed, “My burps taste like gas station.” Which is high praise, depending on what circles you run in. (Never-ending circles.)”  (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)

You know things are getting back to normal when scores of websites are publishing a plethora of “clickbait” articles purporting to tell readers where they should dine in their respective states.  Some sites rely on Google or Yelp data to provide some level of empirical credibility.   Others seem to pull names from the air or they celebrate “the same usual suspects.”  In any case, here are February’s “best” according to national online sites:

January, 2020

Enchiladas from Nena’s Food in Albuquerque

Eighteen competitors vying for a quarter of a million dollar salary as head chef of Gordon Ramsay’s spectacular Hell’s Kitchen restaurant in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.  That’s what’s on tap on Season 19 of Hell’s Kitchen, Fox’s longest-running competition show.  Among the contestants is Albuquerque’s own Marc Quiñones, executive chef at Mas Tapas Y Vino on 2nd Street.  Chef Quiñones was profiled recently in a revealing profile on mashed.com.  Though he’s a prolific distance runner, the passionate chef has never run away from any challenge.  Not even from Gordon Ramsay’s raged-filled rants.  Not even from cut-throat competition where it’s every chef for themselves.  Watching Chef Quiñones assert himself as a leader in the kitchen will give you an even greater sense of appreciation for the two-time best chef in the city.  Don’t miss an episode of Hell’s Kitchen which airs Thursday nights at 7PM on Fox.

Diners from throughout the Southwest (including me) dream about the dishes they’ve enjoyed at Forghedaboudit Southwest Italian in Las Cruces.  Fittingly, it’s in the dreams of über chef Bob Yacone that many of those dishes are conceptualized. “They (dishes) come to me in my sleep and I bring it to the kitchen,” Bob says. “…It’s knowing what’s too little and what’s too much.”  The revelation that the talented chef can make dreams come true was just one nugget of information shared by The Deming Highlight in an article titled “Forghedaboudit Southwestern Italian draws critic’s choice in Las Cruces, NM.” The article also revealed that the Yacones are planning to franchise the local business and call it Forghedaboudit Express.

Carbonara From Forghedaboudit Southwest Italian in Las Cruces

If you’re not already tuning in to Sunny 101.3FM’s Hungry Hump Days on Wednesday mornings at 6AM, you’re missing out on compelling interviews with some of the metropolitan area’s most interesting and talented “food” personalities.  We don’t just interview restaurateurs and chefs.  We’ve interviewed Sonya Warwick, communications director for the Roadrunner Food Bank; Howie Kaibel, the charismatic community manager for Yelp; and blogger Alonna Smith of My Indian Stove, for example.  We’ve parlayed with Chef Israel Rivera of The Shop, winner of Albuquerque The Magazine’s best chef award for 2020; George Griego of the Central Grill and Coffee House, the New Mexico Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Neighbor of the Year for 2021 and several other people who kept Albuquerque well-fed and happy.  

On the television series 30 Rock, geeky third-wave feminist Liz Lemon theorized I believe that all anyone really wants in this life is to sit in peace and eat a sandwich.”  Sounds good to me.   In a feature titled “The Best Sandwich in Every State,” Food & Wine reminds New Mexicans that the best sandwich in the Land of Enchantment comes from Bocadillos Slow Roasted in Albuquerque.  That sandwich is called the Duke City Ruben, described as “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.”   (Thank you, Sarita)

Sausage & Pepperoni Pizza from M’Tucci’s Moderno in Rio Rancho

Cheapism, a site which argues you can live well irrespective of your income and claims there is no such thing as being too frugal agrees with Food & Wine that Bocadillos Slow Roasted proffers the best sandwich in the Land of Enchantment.  Cheapism differs, however, on just which sandwich that is.  In a feature titled “The definitive list of America’s best sandwiches,” Cheapism names the 505 Filthy as New Mexico’s very best sandwich.  The rationale: “We aren’t big fans of the school of thought that says “Guy Fieri ate here on ‘Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives,’ so it’s great,” but Guy got this one right. Building all its dishes off of slow-roasted meats, Slow Roasted Bocadillos fills its area-code masterpiece with chicken breast, bacon, green chile, house-made chipotle mayo, lettuce, and tomato. Finished off with melted asadero cheese, it’s a mess made with love.”

Created for the sole purpose of “helping you make the right food choice every time,” Eat This, Not That! compiled a list celebrating “the best grilled cheese in every state.”  New Mexico’s best grilled cheese comes from Albuquerque’s The Grove Cafe & Market in the fashionable East Downtown district.  Here’s what Eat This, Not That! had to say: “The menu at this eatery, which is located on the trendy EDo (East Downtown) neighborhood, revolves around organic ingredients from local farms, with an emphasis specifically on sustainable agriculture. But what makes The Grove truly shine, according to Yelp reviewers, is its grilled cheeses. You have two options at lunchtime, both on pressed sourdough: The Three-Cheese (which boasts white cheddar, Havarti, and aged provolone) and the Grilled Cheese ‘N Greens (with ricotta, gruyere, braised kale, roasted tomatoes, and pickled fennel.) When the weather permits, savor your sandwich out on the covered patio.” (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)  

BBQ Pork Buns from Heaven Dragon in Rio Rancho

Late Show comedian Jay Leno defined “KFC” as “Keep Fooling Customers.”  Obviously he wasn’t a big fan of the Colonel’s eleven herbs and spices.  He knows you can find much better chicken at holes-in-the-wall eateries throughout the fruited plain.  Cheapism put together its list of “America’s best hole in the wall fried chicken spots.”  Suffice to say, KFC didn’t make the list.  Not even close. Instead, Cheapism crowed about such fried chicken joints as Big Daddy’s Diner in Cloudcroft, New Mexico: “Located in the Lincoln National Forest near a camping and resort area, Big Daddy’s Diner gets a lot of tourists and visitors. They all get to enjoy country cooking in a restaurant that feels like a home inside, with lots of knick-knacks and photos on the walls. The fried chicken is called Henny Penny here, and it’s got a lightly colored coating that’s flecked with spices and served alongside wedge “taters.”

Columnist and author Gustavo Arellano quips “The Taco Bell taco is dead. Long live the taco.”  Increasingly as the taste buds of diners across the fruited plain are awakened to the diversity and deliciousness of tacos, they’re no longer headed for the border for their Tuesday taco fix.  They’re finding much better alternatives across the fruited plain.   Using Yelp data, Eat This, Not That! identified the “most mouth-watering tacos in every state.”  It goes without saying that Taco Bell didn’t make the list.  Yelp data revealed that New Mexico’s best taco comes from Albuquerque’s Tako Ten.  In its previous instantiation as Dia De Los Takos, this extremely popular taqueria earned many similar honors.

Pecan Pie from Rudy’s

Author and pastor Andy Stanley posits “If you’re the only hot dog stand in town, your hot dogs don’t have to be good.”  Fortunately hot dog stands across the Land of Enchantment don’t have that problem.  Not only are Duke City dogs delicious, they’re brimming with creative toppings–everything but the kitchen sink and ketchup.  MSN Lifestyle compiled a list of “every state’s best hot dog joint.” New Mexico’s most enchanting hot dog comes from Albuquerque’s Urban Hotdog Company.  Here’s what MSN Lifestyle had to say: “Serving some of America’s most creative hot dogs the Urban Hotdog Company has a menu long enough to please everyone. Potato-wrapped sausage, Polish sausage, Guinness-soaked bratwurst – they’ve got it all. Don’t forget to order the superb fried onion strings with chipotle mayo to go with your dog.” (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)

It’s becoming increasingly rare to find a burger you can classify as a “cheap eat”–at least from a cost perspective.  Just about gone are the days when you can enjoy a burger for less than five dollars.  Leave it to Cheapism to tell you “where to find a cheap delicious burger in every state.”  Within the Land of Enchantment’s sacred borders, you can find a cheap delicious burger at Sparky’s in Hatch: “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.” (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)

About Gil Garduno

Since 2008, the tagline on Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog has invited you to “Follow the Culinary Ruminations of New Mexico’s Sesquipedalian Sybarite.” To date, more than 1 million visitors have trusted (or at least visited) my recommendations on nearly 1,200 restaurant reviews. Please take a few minutes to tell me what you think. Whether you agree or disagree with me, I'd love to hear about it.

View all posts by Gil Garduno →

3 Comments on “Red or Green–New Mexico’s Food Scene is on Fire: February, 2021”

  1. Hi, Gil,

    I started going to Bocadillo‘s when they were still in the garage off 12th St. I can’t imagine how I discovered it, if not from one of your blogs.

    You were remiss in not mentioning the most famous three dragons of recent times. They belonged to Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones: Her babies.

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