Duke City Taco – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Duke City Taco on Menaul

Observer: You’ve said that you can do anything with a taco, except put ketchup on it?
Danny Trejo: That’s it! [Laughs].
Observer: Do people try to do that?
Danny Trejo: Yeah, some people think that ketchup is good on a taco. Maybe if you’re 10-years-old, you might want to put ketchup on a taco.
Observer: But that’s sacrilegious!
Danny Trejo: I know, right?

Over the years, putting ketchup on a hot dog has been cussed and discussed ad-nauseam, the consensus being that adults and sane people should never put ketchup on hot dogs.  Actor cum restaurateur Danny Trejo contends it’s just as wrong to put ketchup on a taco.  When “Machete” speaks, you’d do well to listen and not only because he can kick your butt(ered tortilla).  Trejo, a prolific actor who’s been in about three-hundred movies and famously served a prison sentence, owns and operates several restaurants in the Los Angeles area, including the eponymous Trejos Tacos.

Chips and Salsas

As an independent observer of the taco condition, I’ve often marveled at the versatility of the taco.  There appears to be no limit to what you can put between corn tortillas, flour tortillas and even lettuce leaves and still call them tacos.  Television personality and raconteur Anthony Bourdain, for example,  fell in love with tacos stuffed with young jackfruit and cauliflower at Trejo’s Cantina.  It begs the question “what can’t you put in a taco?”  We’ve established that ketchup has no place in tacos, but what about say, Welch’s grape jelly.  Sorry, Bob, that’s probably a no.

Duke City taquerias aren’t as “adventurous” as some taquerias in Los Angeles, but that doesn’t mean they’re not stretching the bounds of creativity in the taco arena.  Urban Cocina not only stuffs its tacos with unique ingredient combinations (roasted sweet potato, raita, escabeche, cotija, pico de gallo drizzled with piri piri on the Impeachment taco), they’ve given their tacos such names as Fake News, Pelosi and Snowflake.  Newcomer Tako Ten offers tacos with an “international” flavor such as the Saigon Scooter (Vietnamese sticky crispy chicken, pickled daikon, carrot, mint, cilantro, peanuts and jalapeno) and the Korean inspired Kia Klunker (soy braised pork belly, lettuce, kimchi, Korean chile sauce).

Birria Tacos with Consomme

Most Duke City taquerias are playing it straight and traditional with New Mexican-style tacos (typically ground beef, shredded cheese, lettuce, tomatoes on a crispy shell) long having been supplanted as the preferred taco type by Mexican-style tacos.  Exemplars of Mexican tacos include El Cotorro, Don Choche Tacos Y Cerveza, Taqueria El Paisa and Taqueria Mexico, all of whom (mostly) hold fast to taco traditions and ingredients which originated in the Land of Montezuma.  In recent years, a proliferation of food trucks (that’s mobile kitchen to you, Bob) have entered the fray, giving Duke City diners an unprecedented variety of choices.

As with most popular culinary trends, New Mexico’s taco scene continues to evolve.  A KRQE News segment in August 2020 apprised viewers that “The latest taco craze has hit the Albuquerque metro. Restaurant owners say many of their customers have never heard of birria tacos but they’ve quickly become a best-selling item.”  The segment highlighted several purveyors of terrific tacos who offer birria, including Changos,Birrieria Y Tacos Alex Jalisco Style and Duke City Taco.  One commonality among the three is that all are relative newcomers to the metropolitan area.

Al Pastor Tacos

Duke City Taco had its grand opening in November, 2019 at the former site of The Grill on Menaul.  The veteran-owned (Marine Corps) taqueria offers a build-your-own concept similar to Chipotle.  First you choose your dish: tacos (three per order), quesadilla (two corn or one flour), burrito, bowl or plate.  Step two is selecting your rice and beans: garlic and cilantro white rice, Spanish rice, black beans or refried beans.  Then you select your protein: carne asada, chicken, al pastor, shrimp and fish.  Finally, you choose your garnish: Romaine lettuce, cabbage, red onion, white onion, tomato and cilantro.  All dishes come with your choice of rice, beans and protein with vegan options also available. 

Free chips and salsa for dine-in guests are an unexpected but welcome treat, especially since we’re taking about both red and green salsa.  The triangle-shaped chips are probably more ideal for dipping than for scooping, particularly those steam shovel-sized scoops I prefer.  They’re maybe just a bit on the thin side, but are fresh and low in salt.  Both the red and green salsa have a nice bite and offer a nice contrast in terms of flavor.  The green salsa has fruity notes and a pleasant piquancy while red chile flavor shines through on the red salsa.

Refried Beans and Spanish Rice

Two items not on the online menu, but now standard fare are the aforementioned birria tacos as well as a carne asada pizza.  If you’ve never had birria, here’s a little primer.  Birria is a dish traditionally made with stewed goat or lamb meat.  Most restaurants on this side of the border typically use beef which is far more accessible.  Because goat was the original meat used, the dish called for a number of spices and aromatics in an attempt to obfuscate the gaminess of the goat.  The result is an indescribable depth of flavor and richness.

Though we’ve had birria (almost always with beef) a number of times in Albuquerque area restaurants, invariably the element that almost never comes across is the aromatics with the olfactory-arousing properties that make your mouth water before you even taste the birria.  Enticing aromas should always preface the arrival of your characteristically red-shelled birria tacos.  That crimson hue is courtesy of a rich braising liquid that permeates the tender birria and paints the corn tortillas.  Duke City Taco’s birria threesome is served with a side of hot consome for dipping and sopping.  It can get a little messy and you might find yourself sporting a birria mustache, but that’s just a trigger for pleasant memories later on.

Chocolate Pie

It’s widely known that the method of cooking tacos “al pastor” (in the style of shepherds) is inspired from the way Lebanese settlers to Mexico spit-roasted meat, especially lamb.  Traditionally Tacos al pastor are made from thin strips of pork that have been marinated in spices (including achiote from where the red hue comes) and chiles then stacked onto a long spit called a trompo (Spanish for top). In many cases, a pineapple and onion are placed on top of the spit and their flavors penetrate the pork.

What isn’t known is how pineapple became part of the recipe. Pineapple certainly isn’t a Lebanese staple. As Chef Alex Stupak of the acclaimed Empellón Al Pastor pondered “Where the addition of pineapple came from remains one of history’s most delicious mysteries.”  Maybe we should just enough tacos al pastor without overly contemplating the pineapple matter.  Duke City Taco’s version is a good place to start, maybe because the flavor of pineapple isn’t prevalent.  Instead, you’ll experience the melding of delicate pork and spices in perfect proportion.

We’d like to think there’s more pineapple on the empanadas on the dessert menu, but Duke City Taco had run out of both its housemade apple and pineapple empanadas as well as buñuelos.  A good (but probably not as good as empanadas or buñuelos,) consolation prize was the chocolate pie with its chocolate Graham cracker crust and frothy chocolate mousse.

There’s a lot to explore and enjoy at Duke City Taco, especially birria tacos made the way they’re supposed to be made–with spices and aromatics that tantalize your taste buds. These are my favorite birria tacos in Albuquerque and might just become yours, too.

Duke City Taco
4615 Menaul, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 22 October 2020
COST: $$
BEST BET: Birria Tacos, Al Pastor Tacos, Beans and Rice, Chocolate Pie
REVIEW #1188

24 thoughts on “Duke City Taco – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

  1. Just read in the business Outlook of the Albuquerque Journal that environmental health did an immediate closure on Duke City tacos due to harborage of cockroaches and other rodents throughout the kitchen area and a Severe lack of Corona safety protocol. Will never eat here that’s for sure

  2. With all of the birria craze lately have you ever tried out TacoBus? It’s an old Mexican public bus retrofitted to be a food truck. Regularly you can either order from the window or sit inside, though currently the inside is closed.

    For years now they’ve offered birria (made with goat) with a stack of corn tortillas on the side to help you work your way through it. It’s very good value given the price and the fact that they give a generous amount of stew (about 3 cups). It also comes with a decent amount of onions/cilantro/limes for you to get it to your liking. The times that I’ve had it there’s been plenty of meat in the birria and it’s perfect now that we’re getting to chillier weather.

    Besides birria and tacos (obviously from the name), they also do excellent Mexican burgers piled high with most any topping you can think of. The TacoBus burger comes with bacon, a chopped up hotdog, and grilled pineapple/onions/jalepenos along with all the usual toppings. They also have a burger made with habeneros, the Fuego Burger, with serious heat. Personally it’s too much to be enjoyable for me but I know some people in my circle who quite like it.

    For me, TacoBus is on my shortlist of both taquerias and burger joints in town. I’ll fully admit there are some better taquerias in town, but I really enjoy the variety that TacoBus has. The only thing that’s a bit of a miss for me are the fries, which are fairly forgettable. Other than that though, I think their food is exceptional and worth giving a go for anyone who hasn’t been.

    1. Thank you, Lorenzo. We have yet to try the TacoBus. Their most recent post on the website was on July 17th. Do you know if they’re back up and running? I’d love to try that TacoBus burger as well as those birria tacos.

      1. They’re still up and running, I just went there earlier in the week. I’m pretty sure it’s just one of the many places that doesn’t really keep up with updating their website. They can regularly be found on Central between 47th and 50th pretty much each evening with the exception of Mondays when they’re closed. One of the nice things they’ve taken to doing lately is they give you a pager that’ll buzz when your order’s ready, so you can stay in your car instead of having to wait out in the cold for them to make your food.

  3. So Tom, does this mean you’re still down there in the caverns? Should we send BOTVOLR with a team of folks from New Mexico Tourism to negotiate your release? On the other hand, if you’re happy down there, I’m sure Gil would be happy to ship you some steamed chicken feet with your sauce of choice.

  4. Erratum: I read my review to my wife and she jumped out of her seat at two things: The taco shells are corn not flour. And there was fresh cilantro in the salsa. Now, hopefully, she will accept me in the marriage bed tonight.

  5. I have not been to Duke City Taco but have recently been to (thanks to a tip from our roving gourmand, Gil) La Herradura in Artesia. On my way to Carlsbad Caverns (never been; awesome!) I pulled into a light industrial area populated with disabled vehicles leaking oil in front of double-wides.

    La Herradura’s aluminum-siding exterior structure could have easily proxied as Sheriff Longmire’s office in Wyoming (Northern New Mexico, dammit!). I had three tacos in which the flour “hard shell” is made on premise and is actually, in texture, close to the light touch Cecila does with her chimichanga. My wife (who doesn’t like hard shells said this hard version was as soft as she has ever had) which reminded me of the “Lubitsch touch. ”

    The Lubitsch touch embraces a long list of virtues which Hollywood director Ernst Lubitsch so deftly deployed in his movies: sophistication, style, subtlety, wit, charm, elegance, suavity, and polished nonchalance.

    The three tacos I had were the Deshebrada (shredded beef), Chipotle (pork in chipotle sauce), and Asado (pork in red chile). All were excellent. But the pièce de résistance was the salsa and chips.

    The chips are house made as is the salsa but the salsa is made with tomato, garlic, and Chile de árbol powder. Chile de árbol (Spanish for tree chili) has a bite like a hungry tiger and has the attitude I like. Chile de árbol is a small and potent Mexican chili pepper also known as bird’s beak chile and rat’s tail chile. Their heat index is between 15,000 – 30,000 Scoville units.

    I would highly recommend La Herradura (as does Thrillist.Com who has called La Herradura possibly “the best tacos in America”).

  6. Hi Bob: Although your link doesn’t work, I must say you’ve successfully transported me back in time to cocktail sausages, AKA smokies, heated in a chafing dish with grape jelly and mustard or commercial chili sauce (a fancy form of ketchup like that produced by Heinz). Knowing your fondness for grape jelly, I apologize in advance but I always found it to be a nasty concoction whipped up by people who were not cooks by any stretch of the imagination as their token contribution to a cocktail party. I feel the same way about those retro sweet and sour meatballs served in a mixture of grape jelly and ketchup or commercial chili sauce. I would hope that no self-respecting tacqueria would offer a taco with such toppings. That’s not to say, of course, that a fella with your unique propensity couldn’t indulge in a tortilla-encased hot dog topped with your Concord Grape jelly sweet and sour sauce in the privacy of your own home – hopefully solo with the drapes drawn tightly closed and the lights turned low!

    1. Alas Miss Rebecca: while I scan over your possibly winceable comments about my palate, I might suggest that for those of us not skilled culinarily, the recipe, and variations thereof, for the winnie sausages is the essence thereof! All that is by way of saying, your comment has spurred me to be in the middle of lightly toasting toast for that Classic the PB&(Welch’s Grape)J with Marshmallow Fluff. –
      – Elsewise, I see Gil has mended the link…must’ve been goblins playing with his/my computers!
      – And while in the genre, let me add: Per Gil’s due diligence, we’ve been tuned into the vintage, provenance, and expanded role of El Taco of late! Given the Holiday Gift Season is soon upon us and having just serendipitously ran across these taco-making accessories…including a handy Taco Toaster!… https://tinyurl.com/y2o7oxrk  I thought I’d share, lest some are always bewildered as to what to get their Significant Other(s)! Whoa! how many times in life have ya kicked yourself for not inventing the obvious?

      1. Bob, I’m so sorry – I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings or to be personally insulting! I was just teasing you because I know how much you love your Concord grape jelly. People really do have widely different food likes and dislikes. Mine has been Grape jelly since I was in kindergarten – I’ll spare you the full story.

        Gil’s combination of hot mustard and plum sauce doesn’t sound quite so bad but frankly, anyone who eats steamed chicken feet (YIKES!!!!!) is dabbling big time in what he refers to as “the black arts”.

        1. Pardon the belated reply…Alas Becky, been busy setting my clocks ahead and then remembering they now go, at that point, 2 hours behind; then had to fill out my ballot and then stand in line to drop it off in case any Vendidos might be working for the USPS; then had a leak in my roof to deal with; and then went back to check past Comments for any instances of taking offense from you whereupon I discovered none over the how many years I may have been yanking your chain?! (Does any know there is actually a name for that? To wit: Interrobang which my keyboard does not yet have!)
          (Speaking of party-days of yore: bet no one remembers one’s Mom putting a sliver of Velveeta(?) on Ritz crackers which was topped with a bit of fried-bacon which all were put under the broiler for a few seconds which led to all sorts of topping variations; lo, I saw a jar of Kraft Pimento Cream Cheese on a shelf de pasada last weekend, i.e. stuffed celery sticks and recycled orange juice glasses!)
          Back to tacos…or is it burritos…anyone done German Burritos?: https://tinyurl.com/yyscs6wt CAVEAT: there appears to be cumin therein!

    2. “Commercial chili sauce (a fancy form of ketchup like that produced by Heinz).” You nailed it, Becky, like a skillful carpenter pounding a two-by-four. Remember the Nike ad campaign “Bo knows golf,” etc. Well, Bob doesn’t know food. There is no place in the world for the uninitiated force of violence and there is no place in the world for grape jelly.

      1. As Jesus uttered in John 8:7 “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” I have fun at Bob’s expense sometimes, but the truth is I, too, have dabbled in the dark arts. For example, I enjoy some of my favorite dim sum entrees at Ming Dynasty not with the best chili sauce in New Mexico, but with a combination of Chinese hot mustard and plum sauce. It’s incendiary and cloying at the same time, but boy does it go well with steamed chicken feet and pork siu mai. In my dalliance with this seemingly disparate ingredient melding, I’ve actually contemplated the pairing of Welch’s grape jelly with that Chinese hot mustard. Alas, unlike Bob my flask doesn’t hold any.

        1. Aargh…Dastardly demons/goblins are forever at work RE my links. If anyone has the curiosity/interest, simply highlight them; right click to choose “Go to (the stated link)”.

      2. Alas Thomas…As Arte was wont to say: https://tinyurl.com/q45n8b5 !!”Grapes” = GrapeJelly “Grapes” = wine Taste of wine = Sommelier Sommelier = Thomas
        Interesting….Just sayin’! LOL
        – Elsewise, nice notation RE Carlsbad Caverns = “…awesome…” Indeed, hope you will enjoy it again to include the bat flights when more prolific in the warmer months. Lest ya missed it, highly recommend the side tour with a Ranger known as the King’s Palace tour which used to be part of the original self-guided tour till thoughtless tourists began breaking off souvenirs of Stalagmites/Stalactites.
        – Elsewise, I don’t know if this was an attempted revival of “Desperate and deluded souls commandeered over 130 planes between 1968 and 1972, often at a pace of one or more per week.”, but hope ya heard of the CaveJacking in ’79, e.g. https://tinyurl.com/y9mn5p6t  …gosh dern Texans!
        Lastly,…where’s the dining report of the Cavern’s cafeteria?

        1. That’s right, Bob, you’re a volunteer for New Mexico Tourism. In a conversation with an National Park Service employee, I asked “Pre-Covid, and in high-season, what was the average daily visitor attendance?” He said between 4,000 and 5,000 visitors daily.

          The Caverns were closed for three months at the start of Covid (March through May) and then reopened in June allowing just 500 daily visitors. In September that number was increased to 800 where it stands today. They only allowed visitors to descend not to ascend so there was no passing visitors on the way down. Now is a great time to visit the Caverns as you will feel like you are getting VIP treatment.

  7. “It begs the question “what can’t you put in a taco?”  We’ve established that ketchup has no place in tacos, but what about say, Welch’s grape jelly.  Sorry, Bob, that’s probably a no.” 
    Whoa and Alas!…and I stand to be corrected…What did Hispanic kids put your hot dogs in for a holder if not but a rolled-up tortilla. Is not a taco…as whatcha might get at Taco Bell…basically a folded tortilla…an unrolled tortilla which would be considered by many to be potentially a burrito? Per your Northern NM roots, I’m but wondering if this might even apply in Southern NM. 
    Ok, keep up with me. A hot dog is, for most, a weiner. While indeed it is debatable to put ketchup on a hot dog, mustard is most typically the basic condiment of choice to be probably joined with sweet pickle relish and diced onions, at the least.  An “in-thing” back in the ’70s (which no one seems to remember, even if stories be only told by one’s Grandparents!) was mixing some form of mustard with…are ya ready for this?….Concord Grape Jelly creating a yummy sauce to pool heated weiners/Vienna sausages (like the ones that come in a can) in a chafing dish for partygoers to spear out with toothpicks!!!! I.e. ya mixed the mustard and jelly while heating it which also ‘melted’ the jelly to infuse with the mustard. Someone just drops by = instant Party!
    Get my drift yet? Ya put a normal sized hot dog in a tortilla, smother it with that sauce (fold or roll the tortilla  and Voila: Grape Jelly-in-a-Taco! Here’s one take on a recipe  with Comments suggesting other combos! (Seriously??? Chili Cocktail sauce instead of mustard?)
    [Bring on the Mai Tais, Baby!]
    PS: Lest not known: Taco Bell has Dorito-based shell now too!

    1. Hey Bob, For grins and giggles, go to Youtube and do a search for “Will it taco?” The Good Mythical Morning folks put together some entertaining videos about all kinds of weird things stuffed into taco shells. A grocery store sushi taco, anyone?

      1. Ho Ho Taco: they’re on a roll! I do not understand how tho, a PB&J Taco could be good without schmears of Marshmallow Fluff ! Personally, per their ratings, I think they are just enamored with Tacos! LOL Ser la Mejor!
        PS, Oh Oh…some Folks are using them for birthday cake celebrations (if is goes through).

      2. BTW…Speaking of stuff to stuff into Tacos, how about Taco Bell having 12 “awesome” sites https://tinyurl.com/yftznzx4 into which Tacos themselves can be stuffed? Alas, might today’s “cultivated” Tacos been delayed in being what they are now without TB opening in ’62? My ‘first time” was from a food “truck” (that’s a mobile kitchen [see attached) to you Gil) in a vacant lot on W. Jefferson near Vermont in LA. 

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