La Reforma Brewery – Albuquerque, New Mexico
When my friend Schuyler sees the name of the restaurant on this review, he’ll probably tease me that my life of dissipation, debasement and debauchery finally caught up with me. “39-year-old juvenile delinquents like you belong in a reformatory.” Or, being the mad scientist cerevisaphile he is, he’ll tell me it’s about time I ended my teetotaling ways. “You’ve tried everything else. Why not beer?” Frankly, when my friend Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott first told me about La Reforma Taqueria, Brewery and Distillery, I had no idea what the context of the term “Reforma” meant, but doubted it had anything to do with a reformatory (which Wikipedia defines as “a youth detention center or an adult correctional facility popular during the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Western countries.”
Mexican history, a subject in which I’m apparently woefully uneducated, recalls that La Reforma was the Mexican social revolution in the 1850s which led to the ouster of dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna (you might remember him from The Alamo) and designation of Mexico as a nation state. The revolution resulted in the creation of the Mexican Constitution of 1857 which provided civil, political, and religious freedoms, and the Reform Laws which declared complete separation of church and state. La Reforma gave Mexicans freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. It helped establish equality for citizens before the law.
To commemorate the reforms earned during the revolution, one of Mexico City’s most iconic thoroughfares was designated Paseo de la Reforma. Usually referred to simply as La Reforma, the thoroughfare takes you from the downtown area all the way to the famous Chapultepec Park. It runs through one of the capital city’s main financial and business districts as well as one of main tourist zones. Among the most famous landmarks along the route is a towering winged statue of victory which hovers above the traffic, chaos, protests, and tourists that pass beneath her feet each day.
Lovingly called El Ángel, the independence monument on Reforma Avenue in Mexico City is as much a symbol of Mexico’s capital as the Nelson’s Column statue on Trafalgar Square is a symbol for London and the Arc de Triomphe in Paris symbolizes la Ville Lumière. The Angel is actually a winged statue of Victoria, the ancient Roman goddess of victory. On one hand, the angel holds a crown of laurel (to place on the heads of the triumphant independence insurgents) and on the other hand, a broken three-link chain to symbolize three centuries of Spanish rule in Mexico before Mexicans gained its independence.
A mural behind the bar depicts the beloved Angel statue along with other symbols of the Land of Montezuma including the Volkswagen Beetle which was produced in Mexico for sixty-five years before production halted in 2019. Towering skyscrapers and verdant palm trees backdrop the statue along with a nearby sign indicating you’re on the Paseo De la Reforma. The symbolism doesn’t end with the imagery on the mural. Nor do historical ties with Mexico, among the most significant of which is the brewery operation.
During his reign Emperor Maximilian, who never traveled without his two German brew masters, spurred the brewing industry in Mexico. Vestiges of the German influence on brewing is still prominent today. Mexican beers are, in fact, based on German styles. In addition to its beer operation, La Reforma distills its own rum, vodka and agave spirits which are incorporated into cocktails. Among those cocktails, all available on tap, are two named for the Mexican independence movement: The Reformita and The Angel of Independence.
The name on the marquee “La Reforma” is subtitled “Taqueria, Brewery, Distillery” in recognition of the troika of offerings all inspired by Mexico City. The menu is rather simple as the most delicious things tend to be. You basically have your choice of tacos, tortas, burritos and quesadillas which can be stuffed with carnitas (braised pork shoulder), carne asada (marinated flank steak), al pastor (rotisserie-broiled marinated pork), or pollo asado (grilled and marinated chicken). The catch of the day for pescatarians is a tempura-battered white fish while vegans will gravitate toward the aguacate (tempura-battered avocado). Traditional Mexican food accompaniments festoon your table with ingredients to add even more flavor and pizazz to your meal. Among them are fresh cilantro, onion, guacamole, salsa, and crema. Corn tortillas for the tacos are made on the premises.
Fittingly, my inaugural visit was on a Taco Tuesday which that handsome young whippersnapper Jim Millington advised could be chaotic, particularly during the evening. He warned that even other evenings “are also becoming mob scenes.” Even during lunch La Reforma is one busy joint with blue- and white-collar guests enjoying extended lunch hours (along with adult beverages). Despite the brevity of the menu, deciding what to order is no matter for a snap decision.
Given my druthers between tacos, burritos, quesadillas or tortas, the latter will win out virtually every time. In my estimation, the humble torta remains a vastly underappreciated paragon of deliciousness and simplicity. In Mexico the word “torta” is a rather broad term for several kinds of sandwiches, usually made with a round piece of telera or bolillo bread. Unlike sandwiches north of the border, however, you can’t just pack any ingredient between buns and call it a torta. Tortas should taste like Mexico, garnished not only with Mexican flavors and spices, but with generations of tradition and culture.
That said, my torta choice may not have been the best exemplar of those qualities. My choice, the torta de pescado (tempura-battered white fish, cilantro-lime slaw, guacamole, tomato) was quite good, but it didn’t “pop” with flavors and personality characteristic of Mexican culinary culture. The white fish, while flaky and light, was just a bit on the dry side though a little lime helped remedy that. The cilantro-lime slaw was rather anemic and not nearly as creamy as the best coleslaw I’ve enjoyed with tacos. Not even with the addition of jalpeños and salsa provided the totality of experience I sought. At some point, adding more ingredients would have resulted in subtraction of flavors. Don’t get me wrong–this was a good torta, but it pales in comparison to the greatness of the torta de barbacoa at Elotes Del Rancho.
The taco al pastor (rotisserie-broiled pork with pineapple) on the other hand, was predictably terrific and more authentic than most you’ll find in this city. My server assured me the pork for each taco is sheared directly from a “trompo,” the cylindrical spit grill similar to what you’ll see at a Greek gyros restaurant. The pork is nicely marinated and comes garnished with onions, cilantro and pineapple, the latter of which lends a pleasant sweetness that pairs oh-so-well with the savory marinade. The housemade corn tortillas put to shame any you’ll find at the frozen food aisle of your grocery store.
For Taco Tuesday and every other day, La Reforma is an excellent choice–not only for aficionados of quality Mexican food, but for students of Mexican history who might enjoy this living museum to the country’s not too distant past.
La Reforma Brewery
8900 San Mateo Boulevard, N.E., Suite i
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 3 March 2020
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Torta de Pescado, Taco Al Pastor