New Mexico’s restaurant owners ended 2022 with a sigh of relief after yet another tough year. While the number of guests has rebounded (to some extent), already slim profits were diminished even further. Restaurateurs faced ongoing struggles from inflationary pressure on food costs, hiring and retaining staff, along with supply chain issues and availability of key items. Restaurateurs felt the pressure on the bottom line in actual earnings. These challenges made staying in business a difficult proposition. A significant number of restaurant closures transpired during the year. On the flip side of the coin, it was a banner year for New Mexico restaurants with the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives crew featuring restaurants in Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Taos. New Mexico also saw its first James Beard Foundation Best Chef-Southwest in years when Santa Fe’s Fernando Olea was recognized in June.
2022 was also a 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 1,3250 comments on 1,311 reviews, an increase of 774 comments and 65 new reviews over 2020. My edacious publicist Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos (BOTVOLR) retains the lifetime commenter achievement award with well over 1200 comments over the life of the blog.
|Most Popular Reviews 2022||Most Popular Reviews All-Time|
|My Moms||Mary & TIto’s (Albuquerque)|
|Tikka Hut Pizzeria & Kabab House||Buckhorn Tavern (San Antonio)|
|Hu Hot Pot||The Owl Cafe & Bar (San Antonio)|
|Uptown Saggio’s Scratch Kitchen||Laguna Burger (Albuquerque)|
|Taqueria Los Amigos||The Burrito Lady (Albuquerque)|
|Al Alwan’s Cafe||K&I DIner (Albuquerque)|
|Vegos Vegan New Mexican||Budai Gourmet Chinese (Albuquerque)|
|Hello Deli||Cecilia’s Cafe (Albuquerque)|
|Perea’s Tijuana Bar & Restaurant||Down N’ Dirty Seafood Boil (Albuquerque)|
|Havana Restaurant||Monte Carlo Steakhouse (Albuquerque)|
|Upscale Burgers & Shakes||Los Potrillos (Santa Fe)|
|Nio Szechuan||Perea’s Tijuana Bar & Restaurant (Corrales)|
In an episode titled “Not-Your-Everyday, All Day,” Guy Fieri and the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives crew rolled into Taos where they feasted on Mexican fare at Antonio’s: The Taste of Mexico. Antonio’s, owned by Antonio and Sarah Matus, has had an on-and-off again presence in the Taos area since 2001 with a brief foray in Colorado. Antonio declared his restaurant’s fare as “eclectic taste of Mexican as well as NEW Mexican Cuisine under one happy roof.” He certainly made Fieri and his son Hunter happy, especially with a stunning plate of chiles relents en nogada, a Pueblan dish he’s helped popularize in the Taos area. Antonio also served the curiously named Illegal Burrito Rastafari which also garnered rave reviews.
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know my very favorite restaurant for breakfast in New Mexico is Gutiz in the “Soul of the Southwest.” That’s Taos for you now acquainted with the fitting nickname for one of the most spectacular small towns in the country. Guy Fieri and the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives bunch had mostly brunch fare (although to be fair, Gutiz serves breakfast and lunch entrees at all times). Gutiz, the beloved Latin-French eatery prepares many items in-house, baked fresh each morning to make your morning just right. You’re enveloped by the fresh aroma of the baked breads, pastries, croissants and much every second during your visit. The service is always warm and accommodating, but the food is what will win you over. The French toast and “Pollo Borachon” certainly won over the Triple D crew.
Duke City paniphiles may not always believe the New York Times publishes “all the news that’s fit to print,” but we’ll most resoundingly agree with one of its choices for “25 Restaurant Dishes We Couldn’t Stop Thinking About This Year.” Among the Times most memorable bites in 2022 was a buttermilk biscuit from Duke City bakery Ihatov Bread and Coffee. Here’s what the Times had to say: “It’s hard not to love an enormous buttermilk biscuit. It’s even harder not to love an enormous buttermilk biscuit with a crunchy, sugared bottom and an inside that’s as soft as air.” I had intended to dig into one of these fabled treasures during my inaugural visit, but so many other temptations beckoned. Next time…
Chef Marie Yniguez who calls among her greatest joys representing the Land of Enchantment once again made us proud. On December 10th, NBC’s TODAY show hosted a marathon called “The Great American Holiday Cookie Swap” in which chefs from all fifty states (plus Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.) shared a unique cookie recipe that represents their home state. There could be no choice for the Land of Enchantment’s holiday cookie. That would be the biscochito, New Mexico’s official state cookie. Sharing her family’s recipe for the biscochito, Chef Yniguez of My Moms explained that her family bakes up a big batch of these anise-kissed cookies. Also sharing a cookie recipe was Chef Marc Quiñones, erstwhile chef at Mas Tapas Y Vino. Chef Quiñones created a crumbly coconut cookie topped with a creamy icing infused by a classic Puerto Rican drink.
“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas on the streets of Santa Fe, New Mexico” where Conor Knighton, correspondent for Sunday Morning on CBS visited. Conor noted that even Santa Fe’s city hall is resplendent in the colors of bright red and green, colors you can find all year long in the kitchens of New Mexico “where the meaning of “Christmas” takes on a different flavor.” At Tia Sophia’s, diners deck their dishes with sauces made of red or green chiles–or they can have both by stipulating “Christmas.” Conor pointed out that even state license plates are bedecked with the slogan “Chile Capital of the World.” “When it comes to cuisine, however, chiles are far more than ornamental.” Conor interviewed Nick Maryol, owner of Tia Sophia’s who echoed one of my personal sentiments: “It rankles me when people call the chile a sauce.” Yep folks, it’s chile; it’s not a sauce.
When asked about the veracity of the long-time legend that the term “Christmas” to describe and order of both red and green chile was first used at Tia Sophia’s, Maryol indicated the legend is probably 90% true. Connor pointed out that “the choice between red and green isn’t as black and white as it might seem.” For clarification, Tia Sophia’s chef Michelle “Mica” Chavez analogized that “the difference between a red chile and a green chile similar to the difference between a grape and a raisin. One (red) is fresh and one is dry.” Chef Mica teaches courses on New Mexico cuisine at the Santa Fe School of Cooking. She explained why chile in New Mexico is so different from chile grown in other regions, attributing the superiority of our chile to the hard, mineral-rich, packed soil of Hatch and other growing regions within the state. “People come for the green, but they stay for the red,” she quipped. The Sunday Morning segment even included a brief cameo by New Mexico’s most famous methamphetamine chef Walter White.
There’s been an increasing tendency for talk show hosts across the airwaves to be alarmists, to pontificate ad nauseam about everything that’s wrong with America. It’s become so divisive that one wonders whether the “United” in United States can survive such dramatic differences of opinion. Albuquerque airwaves are blessed to have Terry Travis grace the air with an uplifting radio program that help listeners transition from a stressful work week to a pleasant weekend. Every Saturday and Sunday morning from 7AM to 10AM you can catch Terry’s “The Weekend” program on 96.3 KKOB. Her program focuses on events, activities and personalities that make New Mexico the enchanted place we all love. On 17 December, one of Terry’s guests was your humble blogger whom you might discover is not really all that thrilling. Fortunately, the banter between Terry and her outstanding producer Jerry Wright made my segment very enjoyable.
Only one New Mexico restaurant landed on Yelp’s list of the Top 100 US Restaurants for 2022. Surprisingly that restaurant isn’t from Albuquerque or Santa Fe, the most frequently recognized culinary cities in the state. Instead, the Las Cruces rendition of DH Lescombes Winery & Bistro was listed as the 47th top restaurant in the country. Yelp noted that DH Lescombes is known for “the baked brie drizzled with local lavender honey, which is served with the winery’s Heritage Bellissimo sparkling wine, as well as the Pasta New Mexico with sauteed chicken breast and Hatch green chiles, which pairs nicely with their heritage pinot gris.” By the way, the top rated restaurant in the entire country is Cocina Madrigal in Phoenix, a restaurant my Kim and I visited in December, 2022.
Several foods are ubiquitous during the Christmas season in New Mexico. Those include tamales, posole, green chile stew, mashed potatoes with red chile and…lime and gin coconut macaroons. According to Readers Digest, lime and coconut macaroons are the Land of Enchantment’s best cookie. Methinks the writer of this feature put too much gin in her recipe. Martha Stewart, on the other hand, may have joined her friend Snoop Dog in enjoying cannabis-laced brownies. Her choice for New Mexico’s favorite Christmas cookies are sugar cookies. Hmm, maybe they couldn’t spell biscochitos.
Since 2007, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives host Guy Fieri has taken a fifteen-year long (and still going) cross-country road trip to visit some of America’s classic “greasy spoon” restaurants — diners, drive-ins and dives — that have been doing it right for decades. He’s visited dozens of restaurants in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, but like much of the national media didn’t seem to recognize there is more to the Land of Enchantment than its two culinary capitals. There’s also Ranchos De Taos, home to the Ranchos Plaza Grill. Located next door to the world-famous San Francisco De Asis Catholic Church, the Plaza Grill prides itself on Northern New Mexico cuisine. Very northern! That means carne adovada made the Taos way–marinated pork medallions topped with chile caribe and ground red chile. It means making everything in-house (except for sour cream). The Plaza Grill is renowned for its “bigger than your head” sopiapillas which are available as an entree (stuffed with chicken) or dessert (with honey). Guy Fieri jokingly chided his son Hunter for “shoveling” his food, saying “it’s like trying to eat with the Tasmanian Devil.” Shout-out to my fellow Peñasco Panther Clarence Vigil for managing to appear on camera several times and even getting in a good quote.
With National Pastry Day coming up on December 9, Yelp scoured the country…or at least its databases to determine the best pastries in every state and province. Pastries, by the way, don’t necessarily have to be sweet. Savory examples include ham and cheese croissants and fried chicken biscuits. There are actually seven types of pastries: puff pastry, short crust pastry, shortcrust, phyllo, rough puff pastry and choux pastry. What you probably wanted to know is just where you can find New Mexico’s best pastry. According to Yelp, you’ve got to go to Santa Fe’s Clafoutis to find it.
The New Mexico Restaurant Association’s (NMRA) hospitality industry awards for 2022 reminded diners that the Land of Enchantment’s restaurants are not only still standing, but continuing to serve their communities–not just memorable meals, but in service to others. Earning the NMRA’s highest honor, Restaurateur of the Year, were Lawrence and Suzanna Beer of the Spinning Plates Group which owns Santa Fe restaurants Sazon and Sassella. Fittingly, Sazon’s James Beard Award-Winning Chef Fernando Olea was named “Chef of the Year.” The Chef of the Year award recognizes chefs who provide excellent cuisine as well as excellent service.
The Restaurant Neighbor Award honors a restaurant that is a good neighbor in their area and has had a significant impact on the community. This year’s recipient was Matt DiGregory, owner of the famous Range Cafe. Managers are the heart of the operation; they oversee the success of the team with dedication and expertise. Santo Militello, Manager of Vernon’s Speakeasy was named the Manager of the Year.
Over the years, perhaps no Duke City chef has graced this space more than Chef Marc Quiñones, erstwhile chef at Mas Tapas Y Vino. Chef Quiñones once again garnered national recognition as November, 2022’s “Chef of Chef Works.” In a revealing interview, the passionate and indefatigable chef revealed his roots as a chef. Just as this interview was published, it was announced that Hotel Andaluz, home to Mas Tapas Y Vino, had been sold and Chef Quiñones would no longer serve as executive chef. Thankfully Chef Richard Padilla has assumed executive chef duties thereby ensuring continuity and inventiveness of the outstanding menu we’ve all come to expect. We look forward to Chef Padilla’s own creativity even as we wish Chef Quiñones the very best.
A political commercial during the 2022 mid-term elections claimed New Mexico is “last in everything good and first in everything bad.” If you read quality of life surveys, that statement certainly seems true. There just doesn’t seem to be any middle ground. New Mexico ranks either near the top or near the very bottom. Wallethub recently compiled a list of the most overweight and obese states in America and New Mexico ranked 24th–almost in the middle. For what it’s worth, New Mexico ranked only 19th in obese and overweight prevalence.
Shouldn’t national holidays be celebrated with a paid day off work? Sadly, that’s not the case with National Taco Day on October 4th. This holiday didn’t originate from some presidential decree or Congressional bill, but from a marketing campaign from fast food chain Del Taco, which began celebrating in 2009. Since then, other restaurants, including those at the local and national levels, have begun to offer specials too. In recognition of National Taco Day, Yelp compiled a list of its Top 100 Tacos in America. If, like me, you believe this list has got to be replete with tacos from the Land of Enchantment, you’re going to be disappointed. Only one of our state’s enhanced tacos made the top twenty–El Chile Toreado from Santa Fe. Ranked nineteenth on Yelp’s list, it was actually rated lower than tacos from Hawaii and Alaska. Two Albuquerque taquerias made the list (barely): El Paisa at #97 and La Reforma Brewery at #99. I may just have to join conspiracy theorist who believe even Yelp’s selection process can be rigged.
There are far more taquerias across the fruited plain than there are Peruvian restaurants, but the selection of two of the Land of Enchantment’s Peruvian pearls as among the 25 Best Peruvian Restaurants in the U.S. is no less impressive. At #10 is Pollito Con Papas, the homey and wonderful gem owned and operated by Rene and Monica Coronado. Far & Wide tells us “This mouthwatering hole-in-the-wall Peruvian restaurant is not to be missed. They’re known for their chicken offerings especially, from the thigh and half chicken chimichanga served with hand-cut fries and aji sauce to the pollo saltado dish, a Peruvian classic stir-fried chicken, with red onion, tomato, white rice and fries.” Tied for number one–the very best Peruvian restaurant in the country–is Aji Restaurant from Taos. Far & Wide gives Aji plenty of love: “Tied in the No. 1 spot, you can’t go wrong at Aji Restaurant. From the service to the presentation to every bite of food, you’ll be happy you stopped in. The trio of ceviches, yucca fries and empanadas are mouthwatering appetizers reviewers love. The traditional beef tenderloin stir-fry strips are a crowd-pleaser as well.
September was Hispanic Heritage Month. The Libbey Glass Company celebrated by featuring Chef Marc Quiñones in its industry spotlight. For the perpetually-in-motion executive chef at Mas Tapas Y Vino, food is a lifelong passion. In a revealing profile, Chef Quiñones admitted “I didn’t choose the culinary industry, the culinary industry chose me!” Though he’s cooked in such culinary hotbeds as Manhattan; Fountain Hills, Arizona; Kona, Hawaii; and New Orleans, Louisiana, he’s sincere in declaring “We have the best community anywhere!” Albuquerque has been good to Chef Quiñones and he’s been good to New Mexico: “Immersing myself and our team into the heart of the local community is what I’m all about. As a result of the most amazing relationships we have built with our locals, we have been able to experience a lot of special moments that continue to help expand our platform, which then in turn allows me to include and elevate as many of our younger cooks as possible.”
After 23 years of elevating Italian food and making Joe’s Pasta House Yelp’s Top Place to Eat in Albuquerque, Culinary Institute of America (CIA) graduate Joe Guzzardi and his beautiful better half Kassie have hung up their aprons for a very well deserved. Joe’s is now in the capable hands of the Shariff family who won’t be making many changes to a successful formula. Also retiring in October was Roque Garcia whose eponymous Roque’s Carnitas was a fixture at the Santa Fe Plaza for several decades. Roque established a national profile for his absolutely delicious carnitas. Another eatery known far-and-wide is Casa De Teresa’s Tamales in tiny Cleveland (New Mexico, not Ohio). Teresa hung up her apron in September, but her tiny tamale shack reopened in October under the ownership of Roseann Blea, Matilda Chavez and Erika Regensberg. Tamales are a Christmas tradition in the Land of Enchantment so the new owners have their work cut out for them.
When full-time professional travel bloggers Laurence and Jessica Norah write, you can trust that all content is based on their own first-hand travel experiences. Although they’re based in Bath, England (one of my favorite towns in the United Kingdom), content on their blog Finding The Universe emanates from wherever they travel…and they travel quite frequently to Albuquerque. When they do, they update their list of the Best Places to Eat in Albuquerque. Their most recent list includes long-time favorites as well as relative newcomers: Sadie’s, the Indian Pueblo Cultural Centre (SIC), Los Poblanos, Farm & Table, The Dog House, Route 66 Diner, Scalo, Golden Crown Panaderia, Range Cafe, Church Street Cafe, Papa Felipe’s, The Grove, El Pinto, Owl Cafe, Vernon’s Speakeasy, The Frontier, and The Red Ball Cafe. Their photographs and observations are fun to read.
After enjoying that list, visit the uniquely named Foodie Flash Packer for his list of 15 Must Try Albuquerque Restaurants. Flash Packer has eaten his way across more than sixty countries over five continents so he’s got good food cred. His conclusion: There are many reasons why Albuquerque is a great place to visit: its cultural charms, its wide range of shopping and dining choices, its dramatic scenery, access to the outdoors, and so much more. While Albuquerque is known as the “City Different,” that’s not the only thing that makes it unique. The cuisine here is some of the best in the world! Santa Fe might take umbrage at its nickname being usurped, but you’ll enjoy perusing the list.
Funnel cakes for dinner, corn dogs to munch on while you walk, deep fried everything on a stick, chile cheese curds that bite you back…That caloric overindulgence has become part of the New Mexico State Fair experience. For many of us, the culinary climax of the Land of Enchantment’s most attended event is the Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge. Six purveyors of New Mexico’s sacrosanct burger vied for the Challenge championship. When the smoke had cleared, Sparky’s Burgers and BBQ of Hatch won its second championship in five years. Slate Street Billiards, Bar and Grille, of Rio Rancho was a close runner-up while Big Mike’s Burgers and More out of Belen earned the People’s Choice award.
Similar to the State Fair’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge, Santa Fe’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown has one simple goal: to determine the Best Burger in New Mexico. Sixteen restaurants from across the state compete for burger supremacy in a sell-out battle of burger brilliance. Albuquerque’s Tikka Spice earned the Smackdown’s Triple Crown, clearing the slate with its spatula in earning the Secret Judges’ Award, Reining Chomp and People’s Choice. If, like me, you haven’t enjoyed one of Tikka Spice’s behemoth burgers, two words bear stating: why not?
During the sixteenth century, Rene Descartes posited the notion of dualism, the philosophical standpoint that reality is composed of both physical and non-physical substances. Dualism posited that the body is physical, while the mind is not, treating mind and body as separate entities. Contemporary worldview asserts that a bidirectional relationship exists between the mind and body and that the more we acknowledge these interactions and adopt a holistic approach to our health and well-being, the greater the potential for longevity. Psychology Today recently profiled an Albuquerque baker who knows the mind-body connection very well. Pratt Morales, long-time co-owner (with his son Chris) of the Golden Crown Panaderia believes he’ll live to be 130 years young. You’ll believe it, too, after reading the profile. Pratt is an 84-year-old going on 22 who’s as spry and fit mentally as he is physically.
Chokolá Bean to Bar a small-batch, organically crafted bean-to-bar chocolate maker from Taos received international acclaim again this year after winning bronze in the International Chocolate Awards Americas Competition, a competition that aims to find the best small-batch chocolate makers in different regions of the world. Chokla beating out 27 other competitors in the “micro-batch” sections in the “Americas” division of the International Chocolate Awards. Chokolá has been featured in Food & Wine Magazine in its list of the top 50 chocolate makers in the U.S.
It’s my joy and honor every day to celebrate New Mexico’s restaurants and the talented chefs and restaurateurs who prepare and serve fabulous food. Sadly, there wasn’t a lot of celebrating in September for aficionados of our state’s enchanting culinary culture. First came the fatal shooting in Albuquerque’s International District of Giovanni’s Pizzeria owner Rosario Zito, a beloved fixture for more than three decades in one of the city’s most revered pizzerias. Later in the month Robert Yacone was accused of murdering his wife Kimberly at their Las Cruces home. The Yacones owned and operated the heralded Forghedaboudit Southwest Italian. Lastly was the passing of longtime Santa Fe Chef Kim Muller, the founding chef at Izanami. Kim was very highly respected and beloved in the community.
“Executive Chef Marc Quiñones’ energy is infectious. I mean, how else could a husband and father of three boys not only be a marathon runner, but also a full-time chef? The man lives and breathes a perfect balance of adrenaline and endorphins. And good food.” That may be the most accurate descriptor you’ll ever read about the indefatigable Executive Chef at Mas Tapas Y Vino. Alas, I can’t claim credit for having written it. Spiceology, a spice company that puts “chef-created blends into the hands of homecooks and better spices and raw ingredients on the shelves of professional kitchens across the globe” recently interviewed Chef Quiñones, revealing just what makes him tick. It’s a terrific read.
Restaurants which earn the AAA Four Diamond distinction must provide an “upscale style and amenities with the right touch of service. AAA Four Diamond restaurants are “Great for: A romantic getaway.” Fewer than 700 restaurants–about 2-percent–of the nearly 32,000 AAA inspected and approved restaurants earn that distinction. In 2022, AAA added only seven restaurants from across the fruited plain to its list. Two of those seven are based in Santa Fe. One of those seven is Sazon, helmed by James Beard award-winning chef Fernando Olea. Sazon had previously earned four consecutive Four Diamond awards from 2017-2019, but a fire in April 2019 caused it to drop off the list. Here’s betting Sazon won’t drop off again. The other new addition was Sassella. Santa Fe, by the way, has ALL of New Mexico’s four AAA Four Diamond restaurants. The other two are Geronimo (since 2004) and Terra at Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado (since 2009)
Who better than Chef Fernando Olea, a longtime resident of Santa Fe to give Sunset readers an “Insiders Guide to Santa Fe?” The 2022 James Beard “Best Chef: Southwest” award-winner not only named his favorite restaurants in the City Different, he shared best bets for what to do, where to stay and even where to shop. For casual fare, Chef Olea recommends you “head to Tomasita’s for “classic Northern New Mexican cuisine,” including “the best frozen margaritas and swirls” (or a margarita with sangria). Keep the party going at Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen, where you’ll find 150 different margaritas. More formal options abound at Geronimo Restaurant, a landmark with “elegant decor and romantic ambiance.” Stop by Restaurant Martín to experience James Beard nominated chef Martin Rios’ “progressive American cuisine.”
On average, there are 280 sunny days per year in Albuquerque (compared to the US average of 205 sunny days). Kenneth Armijo, a third generation chile farmer turned engineer at Sandia National Laboratories who normally works on large-scale industrial processes decided to harness the power of the sun to roast chiles. “Using several sacks of chiles provided by his father, Armijo got to work. By setting up a traditional steel-drum tumbling roaster at the top of a facility tower at Sandia and focusing dozens of heliostats, or mirror-like devices, on it, he was able to maintain consistent roasting temperatures of around 900° F. Not only did the solar-roasted chiles cook in six minutes, but they also sported a more uniform level of caramelization compared to the traditional way. In an informal comparison, taste-testers preferred the flavor of the sun-roasted Socorro chiles. Armijo believes there could be a future where these kinds of solar cookers could become more modular and widely available.”
New Mexico consistently ranks at the very bottom of virtually every quality of life category you can think of. Here’s another one denizens of the Land of Enchantment won’t be bragging about: New Mexico has been ranked by MSN as the “Unfriendliest State in America.” MSN confirms that even a survey conducted by a local television station seems to affirm MSN’s rankings: “KRQE, a local news station in New Mexico, conducted a study that showed that their own state was the one that drew up short when it came to livability and friendliness. New Mexico performed poorly in several areas, including having the highest percentage of the population living in poverty, the lowest income growth, the lowest population aged 25 and older with a high school diploma or higher, and the highest crime rate.” At least we have sunshine.
In 2006 when my Kim and I visited Matilda’s Restaurant in Española, I pondered if owner Matilda Guillen was the inspiration for one of New Mexico’s official state songs. Former Lieutenant Governor Roberto Mondragon extolled in a rich timbre, the incomparably beauteous flowers of The Land of Enchantment–its women: “lindas mujeras que no tiene igual.” Matilda was a spry 81 years young when we first met her. Though we never returned to her eponymous restaurant, it still crushed me when I read she had passed away on 3 July 2022 at 96-years young. Matilda fed a lot of New Mexicans during her all-too-brief but beautiful life. She’ll be greatly missed.
For centuries, the Navajo people tended flourishing peach orchards across the Four Corners area, where New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, and Colorado converge. In 1863, the U.S. government ordered the Navajos to leave their cherished homeland. When they refused to leave, Colonel Christopher “Kit” Carson was ordered to slaughter their livestock, massacre any resistors, and burn their crops, notably their thousands of peach trees. One American troop claimed to have destroyed more than 3,000 peach trees including what one captain described as “500 “of the best peach trees I have ever seen in the country, every one of them bearing fruit.” When she learned about the peach trees which once flourished in the Navajo Reservation, Gallup Native and proud Navajo Reagan Wytslucy began a quest to restore the orchards. Her quest is chronicled in a magnificent Atlas Obscura feature.
Atlas Obscura also introduces readers to the only alien-themed McDonald’s in the country. It won’t surprise you to learn that McDonald’s is located in Roswell, New Mexico where an extracurricular encounter of the third kind occurred in the 1940s. Atlas Obscura described “a city where everything (even street lamps and mail boxes) is inspired by tales of the Roswell Incident, the McDonald’s, as is their wont, fits right in.” It goes on to describe “UFO-shaped exterior burns neon in the evenings and shines like space metal in the day. The interior of the “ship” holds the massive play place which is similarly space-themed, complete with the mascots in space suits.”
The Strategist purports to “surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape.” One of the most satisfying purchases you can make is an experience. Writer Natasha Pickowicz “hadn’t taken a real vacation since 2018 until she and her boyfriend spent six days driving around northern New Mexico in early spring.” Their vacation included visiting salubrious hot springs, enjoying green chile on virtually everything, dining at James Beard-nominated restaurants such as La Guelaguetza in Albuquerque, healthful mineral baths and staying at an Earthship in Taos.
The age-old debate as to whether hamburgers and hot dogs are sandwiches resurfaced when the July/August edition of Reader’s Digest included a feature listing “the best sandwich in every state.” While most states can boast of “conventional” sandwiches, the Land of Enchantment apparently has only on worthy sandwich–the green chile cheeseburger. Reader’s Digest indicated “green chile is practically synonymous with New Mexican cuisine, so much so that the pepper is also called New Mexico green chile. So, it’s no surprise that you’ll find it topping burgers all along the state’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail.”
Standing behind the rostrum Chef Fernando Olea could have passed for a Hollywood actor celebrating an Oscar win for his performance in a western. In essence, the soft-spoken chef was accepting his vocation’s equivalent of an Academy Award. Earning “Best Chef – Southwest” recognition from the James Beard Foundation was the culmination of a stellar career that has seen the Mexico City-born chef enthrall City Different diners with spectacular culinary fare since 1991. With a repertoire of traditional new world and contemporary cuisine executed to absolute perfection every time, Chef Olea has made Sazon, his newest endeavor, a destination restaurant. Getting a seat at his magnus opus just got tougher (serves me right for having put it off for so long).
New Mexico Magazine has long recognized that the Land of Enchantment’s culinary culture is an essential element of the state’s enchanting charm. Increasingly the magazine has showcased that culinary culture in gripping features, several of which were recognized by the The International Regional Magazine Association (IRMA). IRMA recently heralded New Mexico Magazine for excellence in writing, photography, art direction, and digital presence. Among the sixteen awards the magazine earned was “Best Food Feature” for a piece titled “What We’re Eating Now,” a compendium of ways that the pandemic changed our restaurant and home-cooking options.
When dining with my Kim, should she ask me which seat I’d like, my response is always “the best seat in the house is where I can look at you.” It keeps me out of the doghouse for a few hours. Travel Awaits, an online presence dedicated to the 50+ (I’ve got eleven years to go) traveler who’s ready to cross a few items off their bucket list, polled its readers about the top restaurants with a view. “Voted the most breathtaking dining experience by readers, at 10,300 feet above sea level, TEN 3 is truly a magical setting. Sitting at the top of Sandia peak, visitors enjoy the epic scenery of the Sandia Mountains and the valley below. To get to TEN 3, visitors can take the Sandia Peak Tramway, or if you’d rather hike, take Ellis Trailhead and enjoy a 1.5-mile hike up to the restaurant.”
If reading Gil’s Thrilling… lengthy missives doesn’t remedy your insomnia, maybe you should start eating pistachios before bedtime. Pistachios have proven to be one of the best aids to help people sleep. Among nuts (no, not the ones in Washington, D.C.), pistachios have the highest melatonin content. Pistachios are also rich in tryptophan which also helps with mood, well-being and happiness. Tryptophan helps decrease the time to fall asleep. The third reason pistachios before bedtime can help you fall asleep more easily is their magnesium content. Magnesium has been shown to decrease symptoms of insomnia, improve sleep efficiency, sleep time and sleep onset. If all this science is making you sleepy, after your nap make sure to read about the world’s largest pistachio. Hint: It’s in New Mexico.
If pistachios don’t do the trick, try tuning in to KKOB radio (770AM or 96.3FM) at 8:45 on Saturday, July 2nd, 2022 when the enthralling Terry Travis interviews your favorite restaurant review blogger. Terry’s The Weekend program is well worth getting up early to listen to. It’s a wonderful escape from politics. Settle down with a cup of coffee for good conversation and a few laughs. She’ll do her best to make even me sound interesting.
Clergyman Henry Ward Beecher believed “We only see in a lifetime a dozen faces marked with the peace of a contented spirit.” Maybe he should have attended the Albuquerque Journal’s 2022 Spirit of New Mexico awards luncheon where a dozen New Mexicans who make a difference in the community were honored. Among the dutiful dozen was restaurateur Marie Yniguez, a first-time nominee for the James Beard Foundation’s “Best Chef – Southwest” Award in 2022. In an interview with the Journal, Marie urged everyone “when you see a need, offer a hand.” It’s that generosity that makes New Mexico special,” she said.
“America is home to some of the strangest food ever known to man. And even though it might not be the most exotic of flavors or outrageous textures, it is simply shocking for many other reasons. Somehow the American people have taken every food and done something crazy with it.” That’s the contention of parentinfluence.com who published an article with maps that portray the U.S. more accurately than anything we learned in school. New Mexico’s weirdest food according to one map was a green chile sundae (undoubtedly from Caliche’s in Las Cruces and Alamagordo). Among the other interesting (and hilarious) maps is one depicting the state-related Halloween costume for each state. Would you believe “sexy meth cook” for New Mexico?
Writing for the June, 2022 edition of New Mexico Magazine, Chef Johnny Vee celebrate two “adventurous chefs” who have “combined cuisines to create new delights,” specifically “Asian and Southwestern flavors.” One of the restaurants featured is Albuquerque’s Cafe Nom Nom, a Gil’s Thrilling…favorite. Chef Nam Thai Tran “has fun combining Vietnamese flavors with New Mexican favorites. Among those listed on the article is the Saigon Street Quesadilla, housemade green chile kimchi, bean sprouts, hoisin and sriracha sauces, and cilantro, mint, and black sesame seed garnishes. It, too, is a Gil’s Thrilling favorite.
TABLE Magazine New Mexico, a new food- and drink-oriented publication, has started circulating around Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Here’s how The Santa Fe New Mexican article describes the magazine: “The first issue is a primer on Santa Fe, spotlighting businesses, museums and road trips that define literary Santa Fe, folk art Santa Fe, Hispanic Santa Fe and Native American Santa Fe. A calendar of events is featured, abundant recipes are shared, and photo pages of dishes from high-profile Santa Fe restaurants are offered. The opening pages have a grab bag of “fresh finds, places to go, get in the know.”
If you don’t already have a copy of the May, 2022 edition of New Mexico Magazine, you might still be able to pick one up at your favorite purveyor of quality reading material. The cover showcases the Pajarito Brewpub & Grill’s green chile pub burger, “one of 20 green chile cheeseburgers burgers you need to try right now!” That list doesn’t include all the usual suspects nor is it exclusively Albuquerque- and Santa Fe-centric. The cover article describes how New Mexico became the undisputed champion of the sacrosanct green chile cheeseburger. Several culinary luminaries (including scintillating four-time James Beard award-winning author Cheryl Alters Jamison) weighing in on what makes a great green chile cheeseburger.
There are several reasons Chef Fernando Olea is my favorite Santa Fe chef. New Mexico Magazine gave me yet another reason. In discussing the green chile cheeseburger at his much-missed Bert’s Burger Bowl, Chef Olea lambasted a spice I’ve long maintained has no business near chile. “We used Hatch chile, roasted and diced. We cooked it on the stove with onions, garlic, some oregano. No cumin. Cumin is in Texas cuisine, and they think that’s the only spice that exists.”
Saul Goodman, Albuquerque’s favorite lawyer (with apologies to Ron Bell) and his associates returned to AMC’s airwaves for the sixth and final season of Better Call Saul. The season’s premier episode included a visit by Saul and his fetching wife Kim Wexler to El Camino, a popular New Mexican restaurant on North 4th. It probably wasn’t lost on fans of the Breaking Bad franchise that El Camino was also the name of the 2019 Breaking Bad movie featuring Aaron Paul. The sopaipillas the enigmatic Ms. Wexler was enjoying looked fabulous.
The erudite and entertaining Albuquerque Journal staff writer Elaine Briseño’s bi-monthly column “What’s In a Name” took a different fork in the road–a fork that led to one of the state’s most delicious and sacred foods. In addition to providing a short history on how Hatch got its name, Elaine explains why it’s considered the capital capital of chile. Elaine concedes that “delicious chile hails from many parts of the state, but more than anything, people associate New Mexico chile with Hatch. One might even argue it’s the only reason most of us can find Hatch on a map.” She goes on to explain that Hatch is “named for Gen. Edward Hatch, a Civil War veteran who later led a regiment of African American troops known as Buffalo Soldiers.” Very interesting, to be sure, but who among us doesn’t want to read (and eat) more chile.
How far would you go for New Mexican food? Scintillating four-time James Beard award-winning author Cheryl Alters Jamison and her friends drove all the way to Tulsa, Oklahoma. That’s a 650 mile drive from her Tesuque home, a grueling nine and a half hours. If you’re wondering why anyone would go all the way to Tulsa for New Mexican food, it might help to understand that the destination restaurant Cheryl and friends visited has its roots in Santa Fe. For 27 years–from 1972 to 2000, La Tertulia fed City Different diners with authentic, made-from-scratch New Mexican food. Two decades after Chef Kevin Nashan’s grandparents shuttered their Santa Fe restaurant, he took the recipes his grandparents and parents popularized and introduced them to his Oklahoma home. Cheryl raved about La Tertulia reborn. Now, if only I could convince my Kim we need to visit Tulsa.
“I knew I should’ve taken that left turn at Albuquerque.” Bugs Bunny may have uttered that statement in a number of Warner Brothers cartoons, but Guy Fieri, host of the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives decided instead to visit for a while. In an episode titled “Meaty, Cheesy and Sweet” which first aired March 4, 2022, the Mayor of Flavortown dined at Guava Tree Cafe where he enjoyed “lights out Latin.” The “lovechild of Colombian born Diego Barbosa” and co-owner Anna Cuyo is “putting out big flavor from a kitchen the size of a postage stamp.” Barbosa explained that the Guava Tree Cafe serves Latino Miami-style food and blew Fieri away with a pernil sandwich and a vegetarian arepa, two of the 22 items on the menu.
Vegan and vegetarian restaurants have been exploding across the Duke City. One of them, The Acre, was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. It may surprise you to learn that Triple D host Guy Fieri is a huge fan of vegan and vegetarian cooking, having been introduced to it by his late sister Morgan. Chef Sean Weed surprised Fieri by admitting “no, not at all” when asked if he was vegetarian or vegan. Chef Weed indicated he wanted to do something innovative, but comfortable and familiar. He’s an advocate for doing a couple meals a week without meat. Chef Weed’s take on vegetarian meatloaf, a melange of ingredients, blew Fieri away with its umami and flavor. “It’s really good,” Fieri declared. The buffalo cauliflower wings with vegan ranch dressing “eats like a really good chicken tender” according to Fieri who called the dish “indulgent.” He summed up his experience: “If you can’t find something to eat at Acre, you’re just not hungry.”
The recent announcement from the James Beard Foundation heralded finalists for the 2022 Restaurant and Chef Awards. Among the five honorees for Best Chef-Southwest (Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma) are three of New Mexico’s very finest. With the Beard Foundation having created a Best Chef-Texas category, our chefs no longer have to compete with chefs from the Lone Star State. That means Santa Fe Chefs Fernando Olea of Sazon and Martin Rios of Restaurant Martin along with Albuquerque’s Salazar Brothers of La Guelaguetza have a very good shot at Best Chef glory.
My friends Mike and Ken used to tell me I was too grounded in reality. In their eyes that was the only explanation for me not liking Star Wars or any of the superhero movie genre. Don’t tell them that my favorite show over the past two years has been Resident Alien, a SciFi channel original about a crash-landed alien who takes on the identity of a doctor in the small Colorado town of Patience. In a recent episode, the mayor’s wife brought him tacos for lunch. The mayor (sort of) took a dig at Albuquerque in expressing his gratitude for the tacos: “Thank you. Oh, my God. No, this isn’t even Albuquerque. We’re in Mexico. I’m literally eating from a taco truck parked at a Mayan temple.” Hmm, maybe the mayor of Patience, Colorado needs to visit Albuquerque which can boast of tacos so good, you, too, might swear they come from a food truck parked at a Mayan temple.
Chicago transplant Maggie Hennessy, now a resident of Southern New Mexico, may have discovered the “most delicious chiles you’ll find anywhere” but homesickness continued to gnaw at her until she decided to incorporate Hatch’s finest into her “home base.” That “home base” is the “simplest foundational pasta sauce” to which Maggie incorporated chiles: “The chiles are bright and a little tangy; let’s add more lemon juice. There’s savory depth from the roasting, too; let’s up the umami with a Parmesan rind. They’re earthy, grassy even. What makes me think of grass? Sheep! Sheep live around here, too. Let’s finish with salty, funky Pecorino.” She shared the recipe for her pasta dish on a Salon article titled “My pasta myself: Forging a home in New Mexico through Hatch green chile pasta.” Maggie summed up the versatility of chile and her newfound comfort in using it: “The point is, I’m safe here; I know my way. So I let the chiles lead.”
Atlas Obscura, whose mission is to “inspire wonder and curiosity about the incredible world we all share” invites readers to Eat Across Route 66, the “Mother Road” which spans 2,400 miles, crosses eight states and three time zones. Though literally hundreds of eateries dot the fabled highway, Atlas Obscura singled out only one from each state. New Mexico’s honoree was the Indian Pueblo Kitchen in Albuquerque. Here’s what the piece has to say: “While other items on this list might claim to be classic Americana, this is the only spot making this land’s original food. At the Indian Pueblo Kitchen, chefs serve dishes that celebrate the culinary heritage of New Mexico’s Pueblo people prior to Christopher 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.”
The James Beard Awards are often referred to as the Academy Awards of the culinary world. Not only do they recognize exceptional talent and achievement in the culinary arts, hospitality, media, and broader food system, in 2020 the James Beard Foundation began placing a greater emphasis on “a demonstrated commitment to racial and gender equity, community, sustainability, and a culture where all can thrive.” The Land of Enchantment has been well-represented in James Beard award nominations with 2022 being no exception.
Among the five semi-finalists for the Best Chef: Southwest award are the Salazar Brothers from La Guelaguetza and Marie Yniguez from Bocadillos both from Albuquerque. Santa Fe has three semi-finalists: Ahmed Obo from Jambo Cafe, Fernando Olea from Sazón and Martín Rios from Restaurant Martín. New Mexico’s semi-finalists will be competing with chefs from Arizona, Oklahoma and Nevada. In the Outstanding Baker category, Nobutoshi “Nobu” Mizushima and Yuko Kawashiwo from Ihatov Bread and Coffee in Albuquerque are nominated. Zacatlán Restaurant in Santa Fe is the lone New Mexico representative in the Best New Restaurant category.
If you tuned in to the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives on Friday, February 25th, 2022, and hadn’t already been familiar with the Albuquerque Asian inspired fusion restaurant named Kitsune, you probably got the impression from Guy Fieri’s lavish praise that Kitsune is a long-time resident of Flavortown. In truth, Kitsune went from food truck to brick and mortar restaurant to an appearance on Triple D in a span of less than three years. In the restaurant world that’s warp speed. Fieri fell in love with Kitsune’s inventive pork belly bowl and jackfruit burrito, rating the latter 9.5 out of 10. He recommended Kitsune bottle its absolutely delightful Kitsune sauce and just couldn’t get enough of the inventive cuisine that titillated his taste buds.
The dynamic, hyper-energetic husband-and-wife duo Keith Allen and Felicia Masias are back with their over the top second season of “Enchanted Restaurants of Albuquerque.” Season two features some of the Duke City’s most enchanting restaurants: the legendary Grandma’s K&I Diner, Soo Bak Seoul Food, Kamikaze Kitchen, Vernon’s Speakeasy, The Ivy Tea Room, Low Rider Beef Jerky, and The Rancher’s Club of New Mexico. Take a virtual tour and get to know the personalities who bring you some of the best food the city has to offer.
When Food & Wine asked “Is this the best burger on the Internet?”, they were asking specifically about Hatch Chile Smash Burgers. Food & Wine’s answer was a resoundingly indecisive “We think so.” The Hatch Chile Smash Burger was the first burger featured in an article titled “20 Next-Level Cheeseburgers to Master.” The full recipe–calling for two tablespoons roasted, peeled, and chopped Hatch chiles (from fresh or thawed frozen chiles) as well as six tablespoons Hatch Chile Salsa–may have you reaching for your spatula and maybe a drool cloth.
New Mexico has two official state vegetables–chile and frijoles so why is it most of us don’t associate the Land of Enchantment with being vegan-friendly. Maybe it’s because we enjoy chile and frijoles with tortillas and sopaipillas (made with lard? In compiling a list of “The Most Vegan Cities for Your Midwest to Southwest Travels,” Thrillist discovered New Mexicans may be missing out, noting that Albuquerque has “a quickly growing list of veg-friendly and fully-vegan establishments. Thrillist advises “Start your chile-infused culinary adventure at Vegos ABQ, where you can choose from the red chile jackfruit burrito; the potato, pinto bean, and green chile-stuffed bosque burrito; or the generous enchilada plate, topped with your choice of chile sauce.”
At a time when mendacious media and prevaricating politicians have made skepticism so pervasive, the notion of attempts to predict the future (even the weather) is often met with derision, conjuring images of fortune tellers and charlatans. In truth some people are so au courant as well as attuned to emerging trends that we should all take heed. Forbes compiled a list of 34 such culinary Nostradamuses and asked them to make food predictions for 2022. Among the sage soothsayers was David Ruiz, executive chef of Vara Winery & Distillery in Albuquerque. Chef Ruiz believes two food trends will be seen in 2022: “With the supply chains in shambles, we will see lab-grown chicken in grocery stores and adopted into casual and fine dining restaurants by the end of the year. We will also see the rise of specialty mushrooms on menus across the country as mushroom farming has become more popular especially here in the southwest region.” Stay tuned. (Courtesy of photographer extraordinaire Bruce Terzes)
In 2021 researchers at the University of Michigan made the audacious proclamation that eating a single hot dog can take 36 minutes off of a human’s life. If eating two hot dogs means missing a single episode of The View, I’m in. Besides what’s life without hot dogs, one of the things that best defines both summer and America. Matt Bernabe’s outstanding Albuquerque restaurant Urban Hotdog Company has made the comfort food exemplar a unique mash-up. Urban Hotdog Company was recently showcased on the Cooking Channel series “Food Paradise.” In an episode titled “Retro Remix,” comfort food classics such as the hotdog were spotlighted. If you missed it because your cable channel doesn’t carry the Food Channel, I’ll invite you to join me at the Urban Hotdog Company where we can celebrate hot dog heaven for ourselves.
Spiked blonde coiffeur and red Camaro in tow, Guy Fieri, the Mayor of Flavortown made a triumphant return to the Duke City where an episode of the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives showcased the Red Rock Deli, an authentic Polish deli and true hole-in-the-wall. Fieri praised the Eastern European menu as well as the attached grocery section which allow for you to take home the goodness for later. Owner Mark Toczek and his Ukraine-born bride Alisa prepared stuffed cabbage and Weiner schnitzel for Fieri who called the “ten times tender” schnitzel among the best he’s had. Though Eastern European cuisine isn’t what you might think of when mentioning Albuquerque, Fieri assured viewers that the Red Rock Deli is the real deal.
January 22nd may be “National Hot Sauce Day, but it’s just another day for salsa swilling New Mexicans who consume salsa picante every single day. Online grocery delivery and pickup giant, Instacart, set out to find how Americans feel about the condiment. “With more than 1,000 hot sauce products to choose from on the Instacart marketplace, customers last year purchased a whopping 444,854 gallons of their favorite fiery sauce, which goes a long way considering a typical serving size is only one teaspoon. Using Instacart purchase data from December 2020 through November 2021 and Harris Poll survey data of 2,025 adult Americans in December 2021, the ecommerce platform has revealed the most popular hot sauce in each state in America, along with the top 10 hot sauces in the nation.” According to the hot sauce “heat” map, New Mexicans ranked behind North Dakota in the number of ounces per customer at 4.4 ounces. In truth, so many of us make our own salsa that we don’t need to purchase it from Instacart or any other purveyor. (Courtesy of my publicist BOTVOLR)
For years, readers of Gil’s Thrilling…have shared anecdotal evidence about the origin of “Christmas” as the answer to New Mexico’s “official state question: red or green.” Since youth, seasoned citizens recall having heard “Christmas” all year round at their favorite New Mexican restaurants, but no source has claimed outright to have originated that response. That is, no one but Nick Maryol, owner of Tia Sophia’s in Santa Fe. According to the veteran restaurateur, the term “Christmas” was coined in the 1980s by long-time waitress Martha Rotuno. Apparently when customers couldn’t make their mind which to have, she urged them to “have them both–it’s Christmas.” There’s a plaque at the restaurant commemorating the event. Can anyone beat the 1980s?