Pernod cream sauce with green chile and jumbo shrimp from Forghedaboudit Southwestern Italian in Las Cruces – Gil’s Thrilling Dish of the Year, The Best of the Best

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: 

Lamb Rogan Josh from Taste of India

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.

The Stormy Smothered With Mole from Urban Taqueria

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. 

Ceviche Mixto from Vara Winery & Distillery

 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.

Shrimp & Scallops Pot Pie from Flamez Bistro

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). 

Date with Cocoa Flora Salad from Cocoa Flora

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. 

16-Ounce Veal Chop from Forghedaboudit Southwestern Italian in Las Cruces (Photo Courtesy of Bob Yacone)

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. 

Torta de Barbacoa from Elotes Del Rancho

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. 

Torre De Mariscos from Sharky’s Fish & Shrimp

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.

Gil’s “Best of the Best”: 2020 | 2019 | 2018 |2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 |

By Gil Garduno

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

11 thoughts on “Gil’s “Best of the Best” For 2020”
  1. I don’t know if I can remember my best of the best 2019 dining choices…I can barely remember what I ate in 2020! 😛 😉

  2. IMHO, someone is losing out per  “they’re” not coming up with a suitable container for takeout. While attempting to preserve the temperature, lids often produce what I’d call the terrarium effect-moisture begins to evaporate from the food and then condenses on the lid or wrapping, only to have it accumulate as a droplet of moisture which ‘rains down’/drips onto the food and especially makes bread/buns squishably soggy.  
    Alas and to avoid any breaching of WOKE as per the holiday spirit, I will not make reference to the ethnicity of 2 major countries which, from time to time, may vie for bragging rights when it comes to Charcuterie Boards. Suffice it to say, that the US has apparently entered the fray per the creativity herein:
    https://tinyurl.com/yb72so5n
    https://tinyurl.com/y9edghkb
    https://tinyurl.com/ya534y94

    PS: I’ll “Second” Bob Yacone per his Comment RE Gil (and G’s Kim) for another year of thrilling (& filling) efforts re Dining, be it Fine or Casual…and offer a Tip of the Tam as well!Blessings to All for a Happiest of NEW Year’s! Cheers! Slainte!, Salud! Saluti! Na Zdrowie!  Et al!

  3. To Gil and Kim
    I am truly blessed to have had the pleasure and rare opportunity to make my creativity known since moving here from NY. Without your visit and honest criticism of my food, creativity & passion for what I bring to the Southern NM region it would never be known.
    I am a self trained and crazy creative guy who loves an educated consumer.
    This all would be for nothing if “Youse” Guys didn’t write this blog.
    My amazing wife Kim and myself appreciate what you do , our restaurant is thriving and doing business that only a Restauranteur could dream of.
    I want to thank all of our traveling customers, local Picacho hills residents , Deming NM
    Folk and Las Cruces contingent for believing we are what we are. The 6x National Championship winner for pizza, pasta and wings and the best restaurant in New Mexico other than Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho NM !!
    Love
    Bob Pizzaman Yacone

    1. Thank you, Bob, and belated Happy 29th birthday to your gracious and beautiful Kim.

      The Land of Enchantment is so blessed to have restaurants the caliber of Forghedaboudit in the south and Joe’s Pasta House in the north. Over the holiday season we dined at two highly regarded Italian restaurants (reviews pending) in the Scottsdale area and kept thinking to ourselves just how much better Forghedaboudit and Joe’s Pasta House are.

      We sure hope 2021 brings you even more success and all the blessings of health, happiness and love to you and all the Forghedaboudit family.

      1. You sir are very welcome! We
        Love this blog and have made great friends and shared my recipes with others who want to know. I am always happy to share and give free advice to anyone who wants a hand. People can continue to contact me @
        Yacone@gmail.com

  4. A real foodie friend of mine tried Ms Gennie’s House of Chicken last week said delicious, down home, folksy food & delicious. Located where Monroe’s formerly was on Lomas.

  5. Gil, if you haven’t you should try La Finca over on Broadway slightly south of MLK.
    Favorite lunch salads in town. Unique, healthy & delicious!!!!

    1. Hola Estimada Hannah

      En esta estación del año que es Hannahmas, estoy muy agredecido aprender que usted y su querido Bryan van a regressar a la tierra encantada. Ojala los dias pasan rapidamente y que todos quedamos bien y sanos.

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