Red or Green–New Mexico’s Food Scene Was on Fire in 2021

The Weird and Wonderful World-Famous Sparky’s in Hatch

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted a cautious reemergence into a world where “normal” is constantly being redefined. New Mexico’s restaurants continue to push boundaries, shift paradigms, and invent new and better ways to serve their guests.  2021 saw the proliferation of the “ghost kitchen” concept.  Bold restaurateurs began pushing back against parasitic delivery companies that misrepresented alliances with the very restaurants whose profits they usurp.  Branded meals–ingredients, recipes and pre-cooking started by a restaurant and finished at home–became a part of the fabric that is dining out.  So is the ever-increasing shift to off-premises dining and the growing popularity of food trucks.  Menus were increasingly streamlined, in part to supply chain issues and staffing shortages.  Most diners agree 2021 was an improvement over 2020, but prefer the old, pre-COVID “normal.”  

2021 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. There are now 12,476 comments on 1,246 reviews, an increase of 815 comments and 48 new reviews over 2020. My edacious publicist Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos (BOTVOLR) retains the lifetime commenter achievement award with well over 1000 comments over the life of the blog.  

Four of the most popular reviews of all time have been for restaurants featured on Food Network or Travel Channel programs.  None of the restaurants on the most popular reviews list for 2021 have been featured on a television show.  In fact, several of them launched during the annus horribilis that was 2020 or in 2021.

Most Popular Reviews (All-Time) Most Popular Reviews (2021)
Mary & Tito’s (Albuquerque) Ms. Gennie’s House of Chicken (Albuquerque)
Buckhorn Tavern (San Antonio) The Whole Enchilada (Albuquerque)
The Own Bar & Café (San Antonio) Garduños of Mexico (Albuquerque)
Laguna Burger (Albuquerque) Saigon City (Albuquerque)
K&I Diner (Albuquerque) Storming Crab (Albuquerque)
The Burrito Lady (Albuquerque) Mary & Tito’s Cafe (Albuquerque)
Cecilia’s Café (Albuquerque) Curious Toast Cafe (Albuquerque)
Down N Dirty Seafood Boil (Albuquerque) Dagmar’s Delectables (Rio Rancho)
Budai Gourmet Chinese (Albuquerque) Poppy’s Pizzeria (Albuquerque)
Monte Carlo Steakhouse (Albuquerque) Vintage 423 (Albuquerque)
Los Potrillos (Santa Fe) Sal’s Ristorante & Pizzeria (Albuquerque)

From a personal prospective, 2021 saw the passing of two of my very favorite people in the world, my friends Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate and Mario D’Elia, the brilliant chef-owner of Poppy’s Pizzeria. They touched many lives and gave us a reason to smile every time we saw them.  Godspeed, my friends.  

December, 2021

Grande Burrito From Central Grill and Coffee House

It’s so easy to make assumptions based strictly on anecdotal observations.  Drive down any street and you’ll espy a number of once thriving restaurants boarded up.  That might lead you to conclude the restaurant scene is a dystopian mess.  Rather than publishing a sky is falling outlook on the state of the Duke City’s dining, Peter North and the staff of Downtown Albuquerque News used empirical data to chart the restaurant scene in this very weird time.  “To lay down a baseline of data that will hopefully help us in the future to figure out whether we’re recovering (and by how much), we set about to catalog every single restaurant, coffee shop, fast food joint, bar, taproom, and ice cream parlor in greater Downtown – all 167 of them.”  It’s a very interesting and useful read for all of us who love dining downtown.

Frank Willis is a man most of us look up to–literally and figuratively.  A towing figure of a man, the 6’8″ former Lobo basketball player has always drawn attention–most recently because his fabulous fried chicken and waffles restaurant, the eponymous Frank’s Famous Chicken and Waffles was featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives program.  In an episode titled “Chicken ‘Cross The Globe,” host Guy Fieri sampled and raved about Frank’s unique take on both fried chicken and waffles.  Because he didn’t get to sample everything he would have liked to sample, he indicated “Triple D” would return to Frank’s in an episode of Triple D Nation.

Grilled Beef Banh Mi from Pho Bar in Rio Rancho

Yo quiero Taco Bell” has never been an expression some of us have never used except maybe in mock derision.  That may be changing thanks to a recent announcement that the megalithic purveyor of hard-shelled tacos might possibly end up in Taco Bell.  That’s according to Glen Duggins of Five Star Chile in Lemitar.  In an interview with KOAT TV, Duggins explained “The chile that’s being packed will eventually go all over the nation.   It’s going to Seco Spice, they will process and they will grind it. Do whatever they do with it and this will more than likely wind up in Taco Bell.”  Five Star Chile’s green chile recently earned first place honors at the New Mexico Chile Association’s Chile Taste-Off. believes “In New Mexico, Money Grows on Trees.”  An Eater article recently explained that the “painstaking process of picking piñon nuts makes for a booming roadside economy for the Navajo Nation and other Indigenous Americans.”   Though piñon is ubiquitous in several western states, Eater explained that in the Land of Enchantment “the culture of foraging for piñon is particularly deep-seated because of the sheer abundance.”  “For centuries, Mescalero Apaches, Navajos, and Puebloan communities, among others across the Southwest, relied on piñon as a staple source of fat and calories.”  Today piñon is a valuable commodity that drives commerce in Navajo country.  

Texas Snowballs: Coming January, 2022 to Ms. Gennie’s House of Chicken

Having grown up in Northern New Mexico, I had no idea during my formative years that Hatch chile was all the rage.  We used to buy our chile from Chimayo, Velarde, Dixon, Española and other small communities in which New Mexico’s sacrosanct pepper is grown.  The chile grown in Northern New Mexico remains largely a hidden secret.  That secret was recently exposed in an article by Eater titled “Get to Know the Chiles of Northern New Mexico, Cousins of the Hatch Chile.”   The article invites readers to “try the sweeter, hotter cousins of the chile state’s lesser-known heritage pods.”  Famed chile farmer Matt Romero contends “the biggest part of the appeal of northern New Mexican chiles is their flavor. “Green chile’s why you move here; red chile’s why you stay.”  

Ruth Reichl, former editor in chief of Gourmet Magazine, believes “Watching the transformation of Saint Estephe Restaurant during the eighties was a bit like watching America slowly discover itself.”  Saint Estephe, a Los Angeles staple in the 1980s was founded by John Sedlar, a native of Chimayo, New Mexico.  Reichl explained: “Sedlar took a giant leap and began looking to his own New Mexican roots by adding “modern Southwest cuisine” to his traditional menu. Five years later, in 1988, he swerved in another new direction, creating a menu within a menu of traditional foods of Northern New Mexico.”  She also shared that Sedlar may be preparing to launch another venue in Los Angeles.  Sadly, he closed Eloisa, his Santa Fe restaurant in 2020.

November, 2021

Salsas, Chips and Mango Lassi From Tikka Hut

Restaurants are a driving force in New Mexico’s economy. They provide jobs and build careers for thousands of people, and play a vital role in local communities throughout the state. According to the New Mexico Restaurant Association (NMRA), restaurants employ over 82,000 persons and represent over 2 billion dollars in sales annually. There is no greater champion for New Mexico’s restaurant than the NMRA which represent all food service outlets in New Mexico with a membership of over 1000 locations statewide. The talent and tenacity of the Land of Enchantment’s restaurants is celebrated yearly with the NMRA’s Hospitality Industry Awards.

Earning Restaurateur of the Year for 2021, the highest honor a person can receive in the New Mexico restaurant industry, was Jason Vinson of Yo Mama’s Grill in Socorro. Earning the 2021 Restaurant Neighbor of the Year award was Mike White of Albuquerque’s High Point and Rustico Italian Kitchen restaurants in Albuquerque. 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 2021 went to Mark Kiffin of Santa Fe’s legendary The Compound. 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 Tai Ayers of Santa Fe’s Ohori’s Coffee Roasters Manager of the Year for 2021. Compelling interviews with each of the distinguished winners are available by clicking on the hyperlinks for each category listed above.

Left: Pecan Cocoa. Right: Pumpkin Latte From Novel Point Coffee at La Esquinita

Mesomorphic Food Network star Robert Irvine is pretty familiar with Albuquerque, having filmed two episodes of Restaurant Impossible in the city. The premise of the show is that within two days and on a materials budget of $10,000, Irvine renovates a failing American restaurant with the goal of helping to restore it to profitability and prominence. Though well-intentioned, those lofty goals for the Shade Tree Customs & Café and Pasion Latin Fusion didn’t meet with long-term success as both restaurants closed within two years after he helped make them over. As is oft said, the “third time’s a charm.”

During his third visit to the Duke City, Irvine wasn’t in town to help resurrect a failing restaurant. He came to honor health-care workers as part of the Albuquerque Isotope’s season-long tribute to front-line workers. In an episode titled “Seventh Inning Stress” which aired on November 9th, Irvine served a meal of ballpark-themed food to 250 health care workers, using only the ingredients available in Isotopes Park. He also prepared a New Mexico-themed snack for the 400 employees who open up the stadium for the game. His challenge was exacerbated by typical New Mexico late spring weather–high wind and monsoon rains. The meal proved far more palatable than Irvine’s rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the 7th inning stretch.

The Deluxe Pizza from Pizza 9 in Rio Rancho

In her inaugural article for Bar & Restaurant, author Ashley Biggers profiled Chef Fernando Ruiz who transformed his life from one of gang membership, crime, and jail time to one of success as one of the Land of Enchantment’s most heralded chefs. As Ashley points out “Food was his salvation, and kitchens were his path to redemption. Today, he advocates for the incarcerated, encouraging restaurateurs to give them a chance in the kitchen.” Chef Ruiz is primed to launch Escondido, a Santa Fe restaurant in which employees will be mostly former inmates. As Ruiz explained to Ashley, “In reality, people who have a criminal background are the best employees. We know the definition of respect. We’re loyal. We know how to work together as a team. And, we’re good at what we do.” It’s a very compelling and inspirational read.

One of the most oft debated topics on Gil’s Thrilling… is the spelling of New Mexico’s official state vegetable, the sacrosanct chile. Any spelling other than “chile” is an affront to proud New Mexicans, especially if the abhorrent spelling of “chili” is used. As you can imagine, when reporter John Cardinale of KOAT Channel 7 alternated between chile and chili in an article about Hatch chile seeds, a spate of rancorous social media posts and comments made it clear New Mexicans were unhappy.

Double Meat Gyros From Gyros Mediterranean

Could gerrymandering explain why Eater’s list of the 21 Essential Restaurants in Santa Fe includes eateries in Taos (Shundine’s Frybread Stand), Chimayo (Rancho De Chimayo), Espanola (The Blue Herron Brewing Company), and Madrid (Java Junction and The Mine Shaft Tavern & Cantina). Is it because Eater has a poor sense of direction that such stalwarts as Geronimo and La Choza didn’t make the list? There are a number of very intriguing restaurants on that list even though you won’t exactly find them within Santa Fe’s city limits.

In a feature titled “10 Massively Inedible Roadside Attractions,” Atlas Obscura showcased ten works of art that “will surely tease the palate.” “Along U.S. Highway 54-70 in Alamogordo, New Mexico stands the world’s largest pistachio. The giant nut is dedicated to Tom McGinn, a pistachio salesman who spent most of his life building his farm, PistachioLand. The 30-foot tall, giant work of art was designed using over five yards of concrete and was covered in 35 gallons of paint.”

October, 2021

Two Sides From Fork & Fig: Sautéed Brussel Sprouts and Potatoes Au Gratin

On a primetime two-episode PBS special James Beard Award-winning and Emmy-nominated Mexican-American chef Pati Jinich traversed the often misunderstood U.S.-Mexico border region.  Using food as a vehicle for her explorations,  Patti visited several border towns,  savoring the rich, diverse and unique cultures in each place.   “While the U.S.-Mexico border has been narrowly labeled for so long, what I found when people opened their homes and lives to me was not a place where two countries clash, but a fascinating, rich and diverse universe with possibilities that cannot exist anywhere else.” 

Among the border towns she visited was Santa Teresa, New Mexico which hosts the largest and most efficient livestock import and export facilities on the Mexican border. Patti explained that approximately a third of all cattle imported each year from  Mexico are processed at New Mexico ports. In 2021, approximately three hundred thousand head of cattle will pass through the Santa Teresa and Columbus facilities. Most cattle are feeder stock destined for pasture and feedlots in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, and the Midwestern states. Even though most originate in Chihuahua, there is an increasing import trend from throughout Mexico. Horses and other livestock are also processed at New Mexico ports.

Spring Rolls From Saigon City

Myra Ghattas, owner of Albuquerque restaurants Sixty Six Acres and Slate Street Café undoubtedly spoke for hundreds, if not thousands of restaurateurs, when she explained during NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday how difficult it’s been to hire and retain employees during the pandemic.  Host Scott Simon explained that “Myra Ghattas was doing brisk business before March of 2020, when she had to shut all of her restaurants down completely, laying off all 79 of her employees. She’s had to keep one restaurant closed. The other two have come back to life slowly.”  Myra detailed the painstaking (and often painful) process of the hiring process when there just doesn’t seem to be much interest in prospective candidates actually filling vacancies.   

The last homeowners to actually hand out something interesting to trick-or-treaters may have been the Coneheads who gave out six packs of beer and fried chicken embryos.  If All Recipes is to be believed, New Mexicans handed out copious amounts of Jolly Rancher. In its annual “Favorite Halloween Candy By State” feature, All Recipes claimed the Land of Enchantment’s favorite Halloween candy is Jolly Rancher candy in its assorted flavors.  Knowing New Mexicans, the favorite flavor is probably cinnamon fire which ranked  only tenth among the 13 best Jolly Rancher flavors.

September, 2021

Carne Asada Tako from Tako Ten

September in New Mexico is indisputably chile time. The high mountain air is at its most crisp and salubrious. Foliage is adorned in a vibrant panoply of color. Magnificent cottonwoods and aspens gleam in the evening sun like the fabled cities of gold sought by Spanish explorers. Hazy smoke plumes wafting upward from giant rotating drums beckon hungry masses to roadside stands where flame-licked chile tumbles in steel-meshed drums. Similarly, two September events beckon New Mexicans to partake of one of the state’s most revered uses of green chile–the sacrosanct green chile cheeseburger.

First to celebrate New Mexico’s green chile cheeseburger was the Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown in Santa Fe which held its eighth annual competition on the second Saturday of September.   Awards were accorded in three categories:  the Secret Judges Award winner was The Skillet from Las Vegas; taking the Reigning Chomp (Judge’s Award) was multi-time event winner Street Food Institute of Albuquerque; and earning the People’s Choice award was Santa Fe’s Luminaria.  The winner of the New Mexico State Fair’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge is no stranger to the challenge–or to winning it.  Capitan’s Oso Grill earned its third consecutive win with a rather unique entrée.   For the fourth year in a row, the Oso Grill also won the People’s Choice Award.

Green Chile Schmear from Ruthie’s Bagels

The “Mexicanos Distinguidos” award has been awarded to Chef Fernando Olea by the Institute of Mexicans Abroad, of the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, in recognition and appreciation to the Mexicans abroad who have had an outstanding trajectory in the field of his professional activity. The beneficiaries of this recognition are Mexicans who have been distinguished by their leadership and are widely recognized by their peers in their work field. In addition, they must prove that their activities have contributed to raising the name of Mexico highly, or that they have defended the prestige and interests of our country. Chef Olea is at the helm of Sason, one of New Mexico’s most acclaimed restaurants.

Bon Appetit, “the award-winning No. 1 food lifestyle brand which covers food through the lens of cooking, fashion, travel, technology, design and home,” recognized Albuquerque native Eric See for his philanthropic work with the gay community.  Having lived in New York City for more than a decade, See found himself missing his favorite New Mexican foods so he launched Ursula, a restaurant named for his grandmother.  Ursula introduced the Big Apple to authentic New Mexican foods including carne adovada, burritos and sopaipillas.  In November, 2020, See was named one of the city’s rising star chefs.  Many chefs go their entire careers without a mention in Bon Appetit.  Perhaps someday a James Beard best chef award mention is in his future.

Left: Blackened Mahi; Right: Smoked Lamb’s Leg Barbacoa. Photo Courtesy of Sarita

A reader of Hungry Onion, a venue for “thoughtful discussions among avid food lovers” doesn’t think very highly of your apparently not-so-humble blogger. In a discussion about Albuquerque restaurants, a reader posted “Whenever we go to New Mexico, I only eat New Mexican food, so I’ve never been to any Chinese places there. However, your friend might want to check out Gil’s Thrilling and Filling blog. I find his writing annoying and pretentious but he sure reviews some wonderful restaurants! I’ve been to some of them, so I trust his taste.”  This kind of notice is just one of the perquisites (perks) for sharing my opinions, a badge of honor I’ll wear with pride.

August, 2021

The Legendary Larry McGoldrick, Albuquerque’s Professor With The Perspicacious Palate

I used to call him “the professor with the perspicacious palate” and while he did have a very refined palate, what set my friend Larry McGoldrick apart as a food blogger is the sheer pleasure he derived from having a good meal, especially when he shared it with good friends. To know Larry was to love Larry, a genial soul so down-to-Earth you might never suspect he was such an accomplished software engineer and University Professor (Oceanography and Applied Mathematics, The University of Chicago). Larry was a very young 85 years old when he left us to join his beloved Jane. Both are now partaking of a celestial banquet where the conversation is so interesting and welcoming that angels queue to join them.

An apron should have been lowered to half-mast when it was announced that prolific chef and restaurateur Mario D’Elia also passed away–not even three weeks after Larry’s passing broke our hearts. Like Larry, Mario was a people-person, beloved by family, friends and even competitors. Mario, the owner of Poppy’s Pizzeria & Italian Eatery in Albuquerque was a chef’s chef. Because culinary school wasn’t an option, he opted for unpaid kitchen internships at several restaurants, a process known as “staging” that generations of great chefs once followed. Those apprenticeships served him well, helping him build a very impressive “curriculum vitae” that includes garnering numerous national accolades. It’s easy to imaging Mario baking one of the pizzas Larry enjoyed so much.

Mario D’Elia, a Chef’s Chef

If Bob Yacone, chef and co-owner of Forghedaboudit Southwest Italian in Las Cruces, doesn’t present his bride Kim with a bouquet of flowers everyday, it’s because he doesn’t want to make the flowers envious of her beauty. A romantic at heart, Bob did bring flowers to the 36th Annual International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, Nevada–not to celebrate Kim’s top ten finish in the traditional pizza category, but to incorporate flowers in the pizza he entered in the non-traditional pizza category. Bob’s entry was constructed with primrose pedals, scallions, beets, green basil, carnation pedals, ricotta cheese and sesame seeds all sauced with Bob’s patented Indian Tika Marsala sauce. This flowery-floury masterpiece finished in the top ten in the Southwest division (the largest and most competitive division) and 15th in the world. One of the judges bestowed a perfect rating of 30 to that ingenius pizza, one of only five perfect scores out of the 249 total scores in the non-traditional competition. This competition was so close that with one more point from just one judge Bob would have won the event. Congratulations Bob, Kim and the entire Forghedaboudit family.

As half-a-million subscribers to her YouTube food and travel page know, Raina Huang is a diminutive dynamo with a huge appetite. During her travels across the planet she seeks out food challenges most of us would blanch at. It seems no food is too piquant, too “yucky” or too large for her to eat. During a recent stop in Albuquerque, she bested two of the city’s most demanding food challenges. First she polished off a prodigious family meal from Tikka Spice that feeds four in under thirty minutes. She then showed no mercy to no jokey Poki Poki challenge at Poki Poki. This trial by fire included eating eight bowls of poki and four tacos. You’re probably overfull just thinking of all that food.

Chef Bob Yacone Delivers a Nearly Perfect Pizza to the Judges at the International Pizza Expo

In a feature titled “The City Different: Discovering Santa Fe,” Wine, Dine & Travel Magazine profiled one of the country’s most highly regarded travel and dining destinations. A segment showcased the state capital’s dining scene listed the “best of the best” among the city’s nearly 400 restaurants. Topping that list were Sazon, the fabulous Mexican establishment helmed by Chef Fernando Olea. Also profiled were Sassella, another eatery with which Chef Olea is involved, Geronimo, The Coyote Cafe & Cantina, The Shed, Rancho de Chimayo and The Santa Fe School of Cooking. One of the more fun segments poked fun at Anthony Bourdain’s famous visit to The Five & Dime General Store and its claim to having invented the Frito Pie.

It’s apparently not enough that much of America doesn’t recognize New Mexico as one of the fifty stated under spacious skies. Saveur, the “the global guide to cooking, entertaining, and food travel” published a green chile chicken enchilada recipe most denizens of the Land of Enchantment might not recognize. Not only does the recipe call for half a teaspoon of cumin seed (a major faux pas in traditional New Mexican cooking), the accompanying photographs don’t quite resemble green chile enchiladas you’d find at a local restaurant. At least “chile” was spelled correctly.

July, 2021

A guacamole, beans and rice burrito with red chile from Mary & Tito’s

New Mexicans take a fierce pride not only in the piquancy of our sacrosanct red and green chile, but in our tolerance of the incendiary heat it generates.  That’s not just machismo and marianismo.  For many of us, pain is a flavor.  We delight in the a pleasant piquancy and addictive properties aplenty courtesy of the capsaicin-caused endorphin rush that chile engenders with every bite.   Not surprisingly, a recent survey reveals denizens of the Land of Enchantment believe we are the champions when it comes to our tolerance for eating spicy foods. The poll of 5,000 Americans — surveying 100 people from each of the 50 states — asked respondents about their ability to handle spicy foods. Researchers discovered New Mexicans are the most likely to boast that their state has a higher-than-average tolerance for spice.  Alas, that same survey revealed that respondents believe Louisiana actually has the spiciest cuisine followed by Texas and New Mexico.  Texas?  New Mexico chile is Tuco Salamanca while Texas chili is Pee Wee Herman.  

It’s pretty well established that Las Vegas, Nevada is where celebrity chefs go to launch restaurants which bear their names but they rarely visit.  What isn’t nearly as well known is that the original Las Vegas–the one in New Mexico–has a burgeoning culinary culture spearheaded by hands-on chefs who personally prepare meals for their guests.  In an article titled “Historic Las Vegas, New Mexico Stands Strong Through the Pandemic,” the National Trust for Historic Preservation visited some of the city’s exciting restaurants (which my friend Desiree Aguilar has been encouraging me to visit).  The feature begins with the inspiring story of Isaac and Shawna Sandoval who started off with a food truck and now own and operate The Skillet, one of the city’s most dynamic eateries. Built in 1898 as one of the first trackside hotels in the Southwest, La Castañeda has revitalized fine-dining in Las Vegas, introducing an element of nostalgia that recalls the Harvey House hotels which one dotted railroad towns throughout the west.   The article also celebrates the Plaza Hotel’s new restaurant, Prairie Hill Café.  

Scorpion Ranch Chicken Sandwich With Curly Fries from Twisters in Albuquerque

TripAdvisor announced their “Traveler’s Choice Best of the Best Fine Dining Restaurants in the United States” for 2021 as rated by travelers.  Two of the twenty-five restaurants on the list come from Santa Fe.  Neither feature a chile-centric menu.  At number four on the list is Sazon, the most recent creation from Chef Fernando Olea, one of the country’s premier Mexican chefs.  Rated number eleven is perennial favorite Geronimo, the Santa Fe restaurant most consider the best restaurant in a city of great restaurants.  Both Santa Fe restaurants were rated more highly than such internationally acclaimed (and Gil’s bucket list) restaurants as New York City’s Daniel at number twelve, Commander’s Palace in New Orleans at number twenty and The French Laundry at number twenty-one.  

Chris Morales, who along with his father Pratt own and operate Albuquerque’s Golden Crown Panaderia in the Old Town area, is one passionate and driven guy who’s brought innovation and modernization to their world-famous bakery.  When it comes to protecting his employees from rude customers, his hackles are easily raised.  He won’t allow them to be subjected to tirades.  Rising to the defense of his loyal employees recently created a social media sensation with MSN excerpting a KOAT story about on particular episode.  New Mexico Restaurant Association President Carol Wight urges diners “to be kind and patient.”  “I know everybody is looking for that pre-Covid experience and we are just not back there yet,” she reminds us.  In the meantime, kudos to Chris Morales for standing up for employees who don’t deserve to be maligned.

June, 2021

Shortrib Curry Rice from Tikka Hut – One of Several Items Being Considered for the Daily Menu

For years I’ve told my good friend Howie “the Duke of the Duke City” Kaibel that he’s done far more for the city of Albuquerque than any elected official and that his extraordinary talents would be best served as mayor or even governor. I wasn’t kidding. Over the nearly nine years in which he’s served as Senior Community Director for Yelp, Howie’s singular focus has been on building a better, more inclusive community by creating personal relationships between business owners and local customers. Building that community has been Howie’s passion, the raison de’etre for every caffeine-fueled day. No one has ever done it better! Whether it was in hosting Yelp community events at one of the city’s fabulous eateries or celebrating his adopted hometown’s diversity, heritage, art and culture in Yelp-sponsored celebrations, Howie has elevated New Mexico’s national profile and brought people together.

Next month, Howie begins a new adventure with the M’tucci’s restaurant family in “a multi-faceted position that includes community outreach, staff culture and team building; expanding their distribution of delicious breads and cured meats; and simply becoming one of the family, someone you might run into when you’re grabbing a bite to eat.” It’s an ambassadorial role tailor-made for the personable and giant-hearted gentleman who’s made Albuquerque a better place in which to live. From a personal standpoint, Howie has become my most trusted source for restaurant recommendations. Moreover, he’s become a good friend and confidant whose mayoral or gubernatorial campaign run I hope to someday help with.

Saag Paneer and Pita from Tikka Hut–Also Being Considered for the Daily Menu

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “essential” as “of the utmost importance” and lists such synonyms as “indispensable” and “necessary.” In defining essential restaurants, goes a little further, describing essential restaurants as: “indispensable to their neighborhoods, and eventually to their towns and whole regions,” to “ultimately become vital to how we understand ourselves, and others, at the table.” Albuquerque writer Justin De La Rosa compiled a list of a list of “the 21 Essential Restaurants in Albuquerque” for Whether or not you agree with the restaurants on the list, it’s good water-cooler material and may just introduce you to a new favorite restaurant.

The first “war of the states” may have ended in 1865, but a more heated civil war continues to be waged between the neighboring states of New Mexico and Colorado. The Land of Enchantment’s fecund chile fields have long held the undisputed distinction as producers of the world’s best chile, but in recent years Colorado Governor Jared Polis has thrown a few contentious barbs New Mexico’s way. Polis argues vehemently that the best chile in the world is the Mirasol pepper grown in the Pueblo area and that New Mexico’s chile is “inferior.” Instead of incomparable New Mexican chile, Governor Polis recently had egg on his face when a vendor at Coors Field in Denver began selling a Hatch green chile and cheese bratwurst.

Pork In Garlic Sauce Over Noodles From Noodle Works

With the country opening up after a seemingly interminable period of social distancing and mask-wearing, more of us are taking to the highway to appreciate what we’ve missed during the Cabrona virus. For many of us the true fabric of this country lies in the small, off-the-beaten path towns and villages, the type of which are celebrated by the Smithsonian Magazine’s article on its list of the “15 Best Small Towns to Visit.” Among the fifteen featured small towns is the Land of Enchantment’s very own Hatch where “The scent of roasting chiles permeates the air in late summer and early fall along Hall Street, Hatch’s main thoroughfare, where mom-and-pop shops sell chile peppers in all forms.”

While you’re making your way across America The Tasty, you’re going to want to indulge in the best dessert in every state. Reader’s Digest tells you what they are. Both “staycationers” and newcomers can enjoy the Land of Enchantment’s best dessert, the ubiquitous biscochitos. Here’s how Reader’s Digest described them: “These crunchy rounds are a kind of spicy shortbread cookie flavored primarily with anise and sprinkled with cinnamon. New Mexicans love the biscochito so much that in 1989 they named it their state cookie, making it the country’s first officially designated state sweet.”

May, 2021

Carne Adovada from Tomasita’s in Albuquerque

Until rather recently Albuquerque’s Lucky Boy was best known for its unique “East meets West” menu offerings of Chinese food and burgers.  All that changed for the quintessential mom and pop diner when Lucky Boy had a cameo in a Netflix flick called Army of The Dead.  As you may have surmised, the movie centered around a zombie outbreak.  It starred former professional wrestler Dave Bautista who portrayed a mercenary turned fry cook.  In that role Bautista manned the kitchen lovingly tended by Chinese proprietors Susie and Ron Yip for nearly five decades.  If you’ve never visited Lucky Boy and are wondering if its unique concept is just a novelty, it might surprise you to learn that Lucky Boy is on the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail.

Forbes, a global media company, focusing on business, investing, technology, entrepreneurship, leadership, and lifestyle, recognizes that “New Mexico has always embodied the exotic: deep multiculturalism, the mythology of the American West (and a truckload of cinematic Westerns) and epically enormous landscapes.”   In a May 11th feature titled “Why Albuquerque, New Mexico, Is the Most Exotic American Big City” Duke City born-and-bred writer Ann Abel enumerated some of the reasons.  Not surprisingly, New Mexico’s enchanting cuisine is just one of them.   She praised the “anchor” of the Sawmill District, the “Sawmill Market, Albuquerque’s first food hall, which has 22 independent food stalls from local chefs and restaurateurs, serving everything from Gulf seafood to Vietnamese street food, and a sit-down restaurant.”  

One Last California Style Pastrami Sandwich from California Pastrami Which Closed its Doors on Friday, May 21st

Conde Naste Traveler believes “Georgia O’Keefe was on to something.”   As with “artists and adventurers, snowbirds, shoppers, and spiritualists,” she was “magnetized by the impossibly blue skies and bathtub-warm temps, the rust-colored adobe facades and chili ristras hung from door jambs.”  There’s a lot to love about New Mexico’s state capital, much of it captured in the Conde Naste feature “Where to Eat, Stay and Play in Santa Fe.”  Among the exemplars that will help visitors “experience the bounty of ingredients at a chef’s disposal” are such Santa Fe stalwarts as the Shake Foundation, Whoo’s Donuts, Jambo Cafe, Kakawa Chocolate House and a number of other restaurants the nmgastronome is long overdue in visiting.  (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)

Known as “America’s Highway” and celebrated by author John Steinbeck as the “Mother Road,” the legendary Route 66 meandered across 2,448 miles of the fruited plain, crossing three time zones and eight states as it traversed from Chicago to Los Angeles.  Atlas Obscura invites intrepid travelers to “Eat Across Route 66.”    While other restaurants on Atlas Obsura’s list might claim to be classic Americana, the only spot making this land’s original food is Albuquerque’s own Indian Pueblo Kitchen (review pending).  “At the Indian Pueblo Kitchen, chefs serve dishes that celebrate the culinary heritage of New Mexico’s Pueblo people prior to Christiopher Columbus’s arrival to the Americas in 1492. The “Pre-Contact” portion of the menu is a sumptuous feast of indigenous ingredients, including pan-seared trout with yam puree, prickly pear syrup, and fried sweet-potato strings; sumac-seared bison with pickled squash and pumpkin oil; and slow-stewed berries baked under a maple pepita-and-pecan-crumble crust.”

Green Chile Stew from the Indian Pueblo Kitchen in Albuquerque

Eskca, which derives from the Latin word “esca”, roughly translates to “food”. And that’s what Eskca purports to be all about – “finding the best restaurants in the country.”  Its website, in fact, lists the best restaurants in a number of American cities including the “2021 Best Restaurants in Albuquerque.”   Several factors were considered in the compilation including “consistently high level of food quality, consistently high level of customer service, restaurant traction with consumers, competitive landscape and quality of restaurant public relations.”  Among the ten restaurants Eksca anointed as Albuquerque’s best are: Frontier, Cocina Azul, The Grove, Backstreet Grill and Tia Betty Blues.  To Eksca’s credit, only one chain (Pappadeaux) made the list.  (Thank you, Bruce Terzes)  

Since the inception of the “Red or Green” report, my dear friend Becky Mercuri and I have compiled a list of restaurants and foods recognized each month by national media publications.  Web traffic statistics have borne out that very few people (a handful each month) click on links to those heralded restaurants.  I don’t know if it’s indifference, a lack of curiosity or perhaps a lack of recognition as to what constitutes a hyperlink, but have decided not to compile and publish these “best of” lists.  Thank you, Becky.  We tried. 

List New Mexico Representative Source
The Most Loved Dish in Your State Green Chile Enchiladas from The Shed  (Santa Fe) MSN
The Food Truck Everyone is Obsessed With In Your State Chef Toddzilla’s Gourmet Burgers & Mobile Cuisine (Santa Fe) MSN
Your State’s Top Barbecue Restaurant Mad Jack’s Mountaintop Barbecue (Cloudcroft) MSN
Where to Find a Good, Cheap Lunch in Every State Duran’s Central Pharmacy (Albuquerque) MSN
Your State’s Most Adorable Historic Restaurant El Farol (Santa Fe) MSN
The Best French Fries in Your State Holy Cow (Albuquerque) MSN
Best Cheap Burgers in Each State Sparky’s (Hatch) Cheapism
The Best Healthy Restaurant in Every State Bumble Bee’s Baja Grill (Santa Fe) MSN
Your State’s Best Cheeseburger Rustic on the Green (Albuquerque) MSN

April, 2021

Nutella and Banana Crepe From The Burrow Cafe in Albuquerque

Song and verse, prose and poetry…historically all have extoled the natural features that make New Mexico the Land of Enchantment.  The state’s official state song bespeaks of azure skies, deep canyons and fertile valleys, but nary a mention is made of the culinary blessings bestowed upon this enchanted land.  Husband-and-wife duo Keith Allen and Felicia Masias are recent California transplants to New Mexico who have been captivated by the dynamic cuisine of Albuquerque’s restaurants.  Under the banner of their film company Sopaipilla Productions, the couple launched a series titled “Enchanted Foods of ABQ.”  The series debuted on April 24th on YouTube and features such stalwarts as 2G’s Bistro, Crazy Bomb Cups, D.H. Lescombs Winery, Golden Crown Panaderia, Hollow Spirits, Indian Pueblo Kitchen, Kamikaze Kitchen, La Finca Bowls, Munchie Truck, Rebel Donut, Slow Roasted Bocadillos and Tako Ten.

My friend David Wagner, author of the spellbinding Rick Montoya Italian Mysteries, is a great conversationalist with a wry sense of humor.  This is how he alerted me to his new book To Die In Tuscany: “book seven in the series can finally be found in your grocer’s freezer or wherever you get your books.  This one takes Rick to Urbino, a great town off the beaten tourist track. There are some interesting food items in this one, including cheese aged in holes in the ground, but of course you’re only interested in the murder mystery.”   Rick Montoya, of course, is a UNM graduate living and working in Italy as a translator and interpreter.  Though he can’t get enough spaghetti alla gricia, Rick still pines for green chile cheeseburgers, his other favorite food.  David does a magnificent job weaving compelling characters and nail-biting sleuthing with vivid descriptions of Italian cuisine thrown in for good measure. 

Green Chile Bagels from Alicea’s NY Bagels & Subs on the left and Ruthie’s Bagels on the right (Photo Courtesy of Tom Molitor)

Despite a phalanx of fabulous chefs, media cognoscenti don’t always seem to acknowledge that New Mexico is even on the country’s culinary landscape.  That’s starting to change thanks to that new crop of chefs who are introducing revolutionary dishes exploding with flavor.  Lois Alter Mark profiled “5 Celebrity Chefs Who Are Cooking Up a Storm in New Mexico”  for AAA Magazine.  The fantastic five are Albuquerque chefs Marc Quiñones of Mas Tapas Y Vino and Marie Yniguez of Bocadillos Slow Roasted along with Chloe Winters of Adobe Rose in Artesia and Santa Fe chefs Catherine O’Brien of TerraCotta Wine Bistro and Eduardo Rodriguez of Zacalan.  (Thank you, Sarita)

Though he may not have made AAA’s hallowed list, Albuquerque Chef David Ruiz is as accomplished as any chef in the Land of Enchantment.  Recently profiled in Spiceology, a chef-owned spice company, Chef Ruiz is indefatigable, a whirling dervish of talent.  Not only did he recently open Curious Toast Cafe, the 2018 winner of the James Beard Foundation’s Blended Burger Project is  building out a new dining program at Vara Winery. The revealing interview portrays a man dedicated to his craft, a perfectionist who climbed the ladder rung-by-rung to become one of the state’s best chefs.  (Thank you Bruce Terzes)

Pho with Raw Beef From T&T Gas Mart

Across the Land of Enchantment’s 121,697-square miles, few foods are as sacrosanct as the green chile cheeseburger.  It’s so revered that the New Mexico Tourism Department even commissioned a Trail that celebrates the irresistibly delicious burger prepared incomparably at New Mexico’s restaurants, drive-ins, diners, dives, joints, cafes, roadside stands and bowling alleys.  The most recent celebrity chef to try her hand at preparing a green chile cheeseburger is the Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond. Judge for yourself whether or not her recipe is one you’d like. 

My dear friend Becky Mercuri and I share food intelligence (recipes, gossip, restaurant launches, etc.) on a daily basis.  We joke about the almost interminable “best of” list compilation from such national online presences as MSN and Cheapism, but also look upon these lists as potential introductions to restaurants and meals we may have missed.  We hope you do the same.

List New Mexico Representative Source
Best Cheap Burritos in America El Paragua (Santa Fe) Cheapism
The One Thing You Must Eat in Each State Chile MSN
The Most Fun Restaurants in Each State Santa Fe School of Cooking MSN
The Best Hidden Gem Restaurant in Every State  Bella’s Mexican Grill (Taos)
Your State’s Best Restaurant for American Classics
Nexus Brewery & Restaurant (Albuquerque)
The Coziest Small Town Restaurant in Each State
La Cueva (Taos)
The Best Seafood Restaurant in Every State Cracking Crab (Albuquerque)
The Best Chinese Restaurant in Each State Rising Star (Albuquerque)
The Best Outdoor Restaurant in Each State El Pinto (Albuquerque)
Your State’s Most Historic Fast Food Restaurant Blake’s Lotaburger (Albuquerque)
The Craziest Pizza in Each State
Rooftop Pizzeria (Santa Fe)
The Best Chicken Entree in Every State The Pantry (Santa Fe)
America’s Historic Burger Joints Where The Recipes Never Change The Owl (San Antonio)
The Best 24-Hour Restaurant in Your State Penny’s Diner (Belen)
The One Can’t Miss Chicken & Waffle Place in Your State Frank’s Chicken & Waffles (Albuquerque)
Your State’s Best Bowl of Pasta
Joe’s Pasta House (Rio Rancho)
Your State’s Best Restaurant for Delivery Sushi Xuan Asian Grill (Albuquerque)
Your State’s Best Hole-In-The-Wall Mexican Restaurant
Perea’s New Mexican Restaurant (Albuquerque)
The Best Pasta Dish In Every State
Piccolino (Santa Fe)
Best Indian Food at Hole-in-the-Wall Restaurant in Every State
Spicy Bite (Milan)
The Best Tacos in Every State
Taco Fundacion (Santa Fe)
America’s Best Hole-in-the-Wall  Fried Chicken Spots
Big Daddy’s Diner (Cloudcroft)
The Best Restaurants for Outdoor Dining in Every State
Farm & Table (Albuquerque)
The Best Salad in Every State Asian chicken salad, Boba Cafe, (Las Cruces) MSN
Best Bar Food In Every State
Fire and Hops (Santa Fe)
The Best Soup Spot in Each State Jambo (Santa Fe)
The Best Wing Spot In Every State Forghedaboudit (Deming)
The Most Charming Historic Restaurant in Each State El Farol (Santa Fe)
The Best Prime Rib Specials in all 50 States Monte Carlo Steakhouse (Albuquerque) Cheapism
The Best Mexican Restaurant in Each State The Shed (Santa Fe) Cheapism
Your State’s Top Sports Bar Boxcar Bar and Grill (Santa Fe) MSN
The Best Bagel in Every State New York on Catrol (Santa Fe) Eat This, Not That
The Best Pizza in Every State Dion’s (Multiple Locations) and Golden Crown Panaderia (Albuquerque) Food & Wine
The Favorite Comfort Food In Each State “Chili” (SIC) Cheapism

March, 2021

Three Scoops of Salted Caramel Gelato From M’Tucci’s Moderno in Rio Rancho

In the April, 2021 edition of New Mexico Magazine, Chef Marc Quiñones of Albuquerque’s Mas Tapas Y Vino explained how he measures success: “It’s about people and the connection. To me, that’s the ultimate level of success…” Very few chefs in the Land of Enchantment have achieved Chef Quiñones level of connection with people. It’s one of the many factors that set him apart. Alas, during the ten episodes in which he appeared on Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen program, Marc did not always connect with fellow chefs, several of which seemed to have it in for him. In cutthroat culinary competition it’s not always about who the best chef is. Often it’s about eliminating those chefs viewed as the biggest competition.

In season 14 of the Great Food Truck Race, a Food Network program hosted by Chef Tyler Florence, seven teams of brand new food truck operators embark on the culinary adventure of a lifetime. Those seven teams race across “the final frontier” of Alaska to a new town every week where they’ll face new challenges, cook incredible dishes and, as always, try to outsell the competition. Every week the least successful team is sent home. Among the seven food trucks is one named Querencia Mia operated by Duke City chefs Marie Yniguez of Bocadillos, Queneesha Meyers of Q’s Cakes and Michael Neu also of Bocadillos. Alas, the talented trio made it only through three episodes and despite selling out three times during the last episode, were eliminated far too early. That ends “must watch” programming on the Food Network on Sunday nights.

Left: Lemon Cheeseburger; Right: Brown Cow Cheesecake from Saggio’s

If you’re still looking for something to binge-watch, why not a program which showcases the Land of Enchantment in several episodes. Six time Emmy Award-nominated host Darley Newman is your guide to travel quests in which you’ll experience culture, cuisine, history and outdoor adventure in some of the world’s most spectacular travel destinations. You can watch the first 24 half hours of “Travels With Darley” on Amazon Prime and watch the most recent 13 half hours on Ovation TV’s Journy, a free app available on your phone, tablet, or smart TV device. Among Darley’s favorite vacation destinations in the entire world is Santa Fe, but she’s explored other areas within the Land of Enchantment, too. At some point, Darley’s travels will be featured on PBS so keep an eye out for more New Mexico.

Author John Steinbeck once said “People don’t take trips. Trips take people.” Thrillist compiled a list of the “Most Scenic Drives in Every US State” where trips can take people and transport them to spectacular sites and wonders under spacious skies. Thrillist’s choice for New Mexico was the El Camino Real National Scenic Byway which was described thusly: “This is certainly one of the most storied roads on this list. El Camino Real was first used by Spanish explorers in the late 16th century, but it’s also home to some pretty righteous rock formations. This road trip, though, is one worth taking for the food alone. Stop in San Antonio (not the Texas one) for a green chili cheeseburger at Owl Bar. In Santa Fe, you’re looking for the Roque’s Carnitas food truck. In Albuquerque—and you have to just trust us here—head to Duran Central Pharmacy and ask for the chili.”

Double Chocolate Ice Cream Sandwich with Salted Caramel Ice Cream; Right: Two Scoops of Salted Caramel Ice Cream from Rude Boy Cookies

MSN was very busy during the month of March, putting together numerous clickbait articles purporting to tell us where and what to eat across the fruited plain. Rather than taking umbrage that out-of-staters don’t really know where to eat in New Mexico, I look upon these lists as potential introductions to restaurants and meals I’ve missed. Thank you to Becky Mercuri and Sarita for helping put the list below together.

List New Mexico Representative Source
Best Restaurant Serving Restaurant Classics Nexus Brewery & Restaurant (Albuquerque) MSN
Your State’s Best Chinese Restaurant Rising Star (Albuquerque) MSN
Your State’s Best Under the Radar Steakhouse Bull Ring (Santa Fe) MSN
The 70 Best Sandwiches in America Bocadillos (Albuquerque) Travioso
Unique Comfort Foods From Every State Chicos MSN
The Food People Hate Most in Each State Chicken Nuggets MSN
Your State’s Top Pizza Joint Richie B’s (Albuquerque) MSN
Best Burger & Fries In Your State Buckhorn Tavern (San Antonio) MSN
Every State’s Top Hotdog Joint Urban Hotdog (Albuquerque) MSN
The Best 24-Hour Restaurant in Every State Penny’s Diner (Belen) MSN
Your State’s Most Charming Small Town Restaurant La Cueva (Taos) MSN
Holy Smokes! Bucket List Barbecue in Each State Mad Jack’s (Cloudcroft) MSN
The Bucket List Restaurant in Every State Geronimo (Santa Fe) MSN
The Best Cheap Pasta Joints Across America Saggio’s (Albuquerque) MSN
Best Hole-In-The-Wall Mexican Restaurant Perea’s New Mexican (Albuquerque) MSN
Your State’s Best Pie Cornerstone Bakery (Ruidoso) MSN
Chicken Wing Game-Changers in Every State AJ’s Wings (Portales) MSN
Your State’s Most Charming Roadside Diner Frontier Restaurant (Albuquerque) MSN
Your State’s Best Truck Stop Eats Russel’s Route 66 Diner (Glenrio) MSN
The Best Ice Cream Shop in Every State I Scream Ice Cream (Albuquerque) MSN
The One Can’t Miss Restaurant in Every State Santa Fe Bite MSN
The Best Food City in Every State Albuquerque MSN
Top Seafood Restaurant in Every State Poki Poki Cevicheria (Albuquerque) MSN
Beautiful Italian Joints in Every State M’Tucci’s Italian (Albuquerque) MSN
America’s Best Hole in the Wall Burger Joint Burger Boy (Cedar Crest) MSN

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., 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, 2021

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  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)

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22 thoughts on “Red or Green–New Mexico’s Food Scene Was on Fire in 2021

  1. RE BOTVOLR being the most prodigious at commenting: Oh Pshaw! Indeed that is most embarrassing, causing much consternation and depression from which I am recovering the past few days. Without getting down into the weeds of definitions of how bodacious of me, I’m Thankful my G-daughters haven’t espied this as it would reinforce their dictum: ‘G-Pa, you gotta get out more!’ Seriously, when ya put the pencil to it, it would only be about 1 1/2 Comments/wk over my mem it being 13 years possibly starting with Fat Squirrel! Now that is not being too loquacious, is it?
    Prosero Ano nuevo for all!

  2. I regret never having had the privilege of meeting Larry McGoldrick, but I will be forever grateful to him for kindly sharing his Maryland Crabcakes recipe on his blog. I made them yesterday, and they were the best crabcakes ever! They have ruined me for all other crabcakes!

  3. Gil, I appreciated your mention of Pati Jinich’s program “La Frontera” which aired on PBS. You are correct when you say the food and the cultures are rich, diverse, and unique. Pati seemed to reach the conclusion that El Paso has its own version of Mexican food that is not like anywhere else, and I agree with this observation. I think this says a lot about Pati’s knowledge of Mexican food as opposed to many food writers who do not know how to classify the food here, or even worse that they would call it Tex-Mex. Many restaurant owners and other sources say it is based on the food from Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua, but El Paso has developed its own food style to a great extent. I think there is much in common with New Mexican cuisine, particularly in the way El Pasoans like the food to be spicy (although many times it is less so in El Paso). In any case, it is always interesting to see the great diversity that can be found within the large food world that is called “Mexican.”

    1. Thank you, Steve. I live vicariously through your reviews of the great restaurants in El Paso and OKC. Someday soon we’ll have to spend time in “Chucotown” and explore them with you.

    1. I can see the cartoon just fine. Though, I’m looking at this on my iPad mini. Maybe the experience is different on a PC.

      Gil, you gave the site a bit of a makeover! I like it! 😍

      1. Thank you, Sarita. As with many developers (not you) I don’t always test, but when I do it’s on production. I’ve blown up my back-up site so often my service provider wants to charge for recovering it.

        And experiences are always different (and better) on a Mac.

  4. “Annoying and pretentious”…that guy forgot brilliant, entertaining, witty, captivating, original, unique, etc.

  5. You say New Mexico chile is Tuco Salamanca while Texas chili is Pee Wee Herman. Who then is your beloved Colorado chile?

  6. Well – I’d say that Ree Drummond’s green chile cheeseburger must be “Oklahoma style” because it sure doesn’t resemble the best of the best when it comes to anything served in New Mexico. The closest she got was the correct spelling of “chile”. No sooner had I gotten past her use of poblano or Anaheim versus New Mexico green chiles than I spied cumin in the list of ingredients. That was a deal breaker, essentially rivaling the “Texas Queen of Cumin” Lisa Fain.

  7. ~ Alas, indeed Kudos to Becky and Sarita for their List of Besties in New Mexico. Unfortunately, they overlooked, for those who celebrate Easter (as it be just around the corner), where NM supposedly stands in terms of the Best Non-Religious FAV Treats of the day—>    
    ~ Elsewise, pardon while I take a moment for Newbies…as well Oldies who may have missed it… [Please view B4 reading further.]
    ~ Here’s a bit ‘of the rest of the story‘ behind one of the best (IMHO) Foodie April Fool’s Day (i.e. today!) pranks. There is nothing like a British accent to add a bit of credulity to anything! My personal recollection is “being taken in” when Allen Funt replayed it on Candid Camera “under the cover of being real”, i.e. pranking us viewers.

    1. Thank you, Sarita. You did tell me earlier in the month about Food and Wine having recognized Whoo’s Donuts. By the way, do you remember when Kramer claimed he saw Joe DiMaggio in Dinky Donuts?

      1. Haha, I love when he’s smacking the table and going “Woot, woot”. Classic Kramer moment.

  8. 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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