2020 will be remembered for a series of shelter-in-place and lockdown restrictions that largely limited restaurants to delivery, call in, carry out and online ordering options. The resilience, strength and innovation demonstrated daily by restaurateurs throughout the country has been inspirational. Despite the tremendous challenges and economic hardships they faced daily, restaurants soldiered on, blessing us with a delicious bounty that deserves to be recognized.
Without further ado, these are the dishes I enjoyed most across the Land of Enchantment in 2020, the fifteen dishes most indelibly imprinted on my memory engrams…the first dishes that come to mind when I close my eyes and reflect on the past year in eating. As with previous yearly compilations, every item on this list was heretofore unknown to my palate before 2020. Every dish was a delicious discovery from within New Mexico’s sacred borders. In chronological order, my “best of the best” are:
The lamb rogan josh dish from Taste of India may sound as if was named for a Hollywood celebrity (or at least it did to this pop culture drop-out), but it shouldn’t be mistaken for anything but absolutely delicious. You’ve never had lamb stew like this.
I’ve never seriously considered becoming a vegan or even vegetarian, but dishes such as the cauliflower platter (pita stuffed with cauliflower, pickled onions and parsley served with hummus and Babaganoosh) from Need-A-Pita can get me thinking about it. Alex Abweh, the restaurant’s genial owner and his talented chef-bride serve deliciousness with a smile.
Albuquerque’s Urban Taqueria got me addicted to the curvy and full-bodied Stormy, a burrito stuffed with carne adovada, Mexican rice and pinto beans smothered in Chef Dennis Apodaca’s getting-better-by-the-day mole. It’s one of the most pornographically decadent dishes in Albuquerque.
Chef Javier Montaño of the Vara Winery & Distillery doesn’t need to be seaside to create some of the very best ceviche you’ll ever have. His ceviche mixto is an elegant marriage of tartness, fragrance and textures showcasing yellowtail tuna, shrimp, onion, cucumber in charred lime-chile coconut juice with chicharron.
Not even the City of Brotherly Love can claim a pizza as inventive and utterly delicious as Davido’s Pizza & More‘s Philly (sliced sirloin, bell peppers, onions, American and mozzarella cheeses). It’s akin to having a cheesesteak on a pizza, only better…and you only have to go as far as Rio Rancho to get it.
Ecclesiastes tells us that to everything there is a season. Summer is the season for the summer ravioli (mascarpone ravioli, baby heirloom tomatoes, squash, zucchini, red bell peppers, herbed white wine sauce) at Pig + Fig Cafe in White Rock. If Chef-owner Laura Hamilton has a ravioli dish for every season, we’ve got to visit more often.
For some inexplicable reason, eight years transpired in between visits to Flamez Bistro in Albuquerque. Dishes such as the shrimp & scallops pot pie (fresh leeks, asparagus and a transformative tarragon cream sauce) will ensure years won’t pass in between visits.
Cocoa Flora, we barely got acquainted before sad news reached me that you were closing your doors. I hope someday to have a salad as wonderful as the “Date With Cocoa Flora Salad” (stacked pear salad, slightly warmed, layered with arugula, mint and goat cheese crumbles, drizzled with rosewater honey dressing and served with your choice of stuffed grilled dates).
Albuquerque’s first ghost kitchen, the Urban Cocina, showcases nine unique and delicious concepts from one kitchen. From the “Nuevo Vego” concept, you’ll be blown away by the roasted beet tostada (fried corn tortilla, hummus spread, roasted beets, pico de gallo). Yes, it is vegetarian.
Before our visit to Forghedaboudit Southwestern Italian, Chef-owner Bob Yacone promised to serve me a dish “guaranteed to be in the top 10 most memorable dishes you’ve ever eaten.” Although your humble blogger is often inclined to creating lists, I’ve never compiled a top ten list of my most memorable dishes. It’s entirely possible, maybe even likely, that the Pernod cream sauce with green chile and jumbo shrimp would be on that list. It was certainly the best dish I had in 2020.
You’re probably tired of reading about my indifference to steak so it may surprise you to read that Forghedaboudit Southwestern Italian served us a steak that would convert the most resolute of vegans. The flawless sixteen-ounce bone-in Prime veal chop sourced from Chicago is one of the best steaks I’ve had in my 39-years on this planet.
It’s a rare restaurant whose door I darken more than two or three times a year, much less a food truck (that’s mobile kitchen to you, Bob). We hit up Elotes Del Rancho seven times and would have visited more often had restrictions not forced food trucks to park for a few months. My affections are primarily for the life-altering torta de barbacoa, one of my favorite sandwiches in the universe.
We owe a debt of gratitude to Chef Mike Mondragon who restored our faith in barbecue with the very best smoked meats we’ve had across the Duke City. Carnivores should hurry on down to Mighty Mike’s Meats for the incomparable beef ribs, about the size of the rib bone that tipped over Fred Flintstone’s car and more delicious. than just about any beef rib you’ll ever have.
Imagine a vibrant, chilled seafood tower turning all heads, causing commotion and being accorded reverence, awe and respect. That’s what you’ll have at Sharky’s Fish and Shrimp when you order the torre de mariscos (seafood tower), all of your favorite seafood in one absolutely delicious, seaside-worthy dish.
Remember the chicken dance, the silly, catchy fun little jig that’s popular in weddings. The chicken dance has had its day. It’s now time for the chicken wing dance, something you might find yourself doing as you enjoy the chicken wings at Wing it Up. Alejandra and Brittany really know what they’re doing, coaxing amazing flavors and textures from meaty wings.
Please feel free to share your own “best of the best” New Mexico dining choices for 2020 by commenting to this post. Who knows? Maybe next year they’ll make it to my list, too.