Sal’s Ristorante & Pizzeria – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Sal’s Ristorante & Pizzeria on Coors Just South of Sequoia

Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti.”
~Sophia Loren

The ageless movie siren, perhaps the most voluptuous octogenarian in the world, is hardly a proponent of low carb diets, admitting to daily dosages of macaroni. She maintains her classic hourglass figure by limiting portions–never consuming too many calories in one meal–and by not overloading pasta with rich, thick cream or cheese sauces. Though La Dolce Sophia once told a Sunday morning CBS program that she cannot diet, she actually does adhere to a strict Mediterranean diet which advocates a lot of vegetables, olive oil, pasta and red wine.

That Sophia Loren maintains a figure women half her age envy is a credit to her discipline.  For many of us, Italian food is an irresistible indulgence shrouded in one stereotype. “The trouble with eating Italian food,” according to British writer George Miller, “is that five or six days later you’ll be hungry again.” With Italian food–at least Americanized Italian food served across the fruited plain–portions are often enough to feed a village in a developing country.  On every table at so many Italian restaurants, you’ll espy a plethora of pasta, tons of tomato sauce, mountains of meatballs, bakeries of bread. It brings to mind Alka Seltzer’s most famous commercial depicted a poor sap bemoaning the consumption of dozens of Mamma Mia’s spicy meatballs?

Italian Cold Cuts

If Sophia Loren was to devour the prodigious portions served at Sal’s Ristorante & Pizzeria, her prototypal hourglass figure would be replaced by an adipose apple shape.  To say the portions at Sal’s are generous is an understatement.  To say they’re a caloric overachiever’s dream deemphasizes their richness and grandiosity.  To say Sal’s food is delicious is to minimize just how much patrons missed it during the months in which in was closed on account of the Cabrona virus.

Okay, Sal’s technically didn’t open until 2021 when it was safe to do so, but if continuity in one location counts, it’s been serving the Duke City since 1984.  That’s nearly four decades of feeding loyal guests.  Before launching as Sal’s, the restaurant was named Mimmo’s for one of the two business partners who founded and operated the restaurant.  When Mimmo retired in April, 2020, his partner Sal Cerami assumed sole ownership, hence the name “Sal’s.”  In an interview with KRQE, Sal assured viewers that the food and family-friendly vibe will be the same, but wouldn’t commit to offering the popular buffet.

Tomato Bisque

There are some changes, our favorite being the dog-friendly patio in which our debonair dachshund The Dude could join us.  A remodeling of the dining room is probably more apparent to guests who aren’t as interested in the menuas we were.  That menu is somewhat abbreviated, but still offers a plethora of pasta dishes sure to sate the most esurient eater.  Just as Mimmo’s once did, Sal’s offers conventional New York style pizza as well as a Sicilian style pie.  During lunch pasta dishes include a soup or salad as well as garlic bread.

We practically recited a prayer of invocation upon seeing Mixed Cold Cuts on the menu (in the restaurant’s previous instantiation, this starter was called Affetatti Misti).  Available in small (serves two) or large (serves four), these cold cuts include salami, prosciutto, ham, pepperoni, Provolone, Swiss, green and black olives and pickled artichokes.  Call it a poor person’s charcuterie if you will, but this is one very satisfying starter especially since your table will also have a loaf of the restaurant’s crusty Italian bread on hand.  

Spaghetti Carbonara

Both my Kim and I opted for soup as soon as our server informed us the del giorno (Italian for du jour) soup was tomato bisque.  By definition, a bisque is a French style of soup made from crustaceans, such as lobster, crab, shrimp, and crayfish.  No matter how you classify this elixir, you’ll call it soul-warming and delicious.  This bisque is smooth, creamy and nicely seasoned.  It’s a perfect change of season soup…er, bisque.

A spate of eateries across Albuquerque have taken liberties with the term “carbonara,” resulting in such interpretations as spicy seafood carbonara at D.H. Lescombes Winery & Bistro, fideo carbonara at Matanza New Mexico Local Craft Beer Kitchen, rotisserie chicken carbonara at Seasons Rotisserie & Grill and chicken tortellini carbonara at Gigi’s Italian Bistro.  There’s been too much gnashing of teeth as to whether any departure from traditional carbonara is an abomination or creativity.  

Rigatoni Alla Vodka

Traditionally carbonara is made by combining hot cooked pasta  with raw eggs or egg yolks, grated Pecorino Romano, ground black pepper, and fried pancetta, guanciale, (or, sometimes in the U.S., bacon).  Rather than debate the authenticity of Sal’s carbonara offering, I’ll assess what we experienced–a largely delicious offering of spaghetti in a rich, creamy sauce with pancetta.  As with carbonara we’ve experienced in the United States, it was much too rich to finish in one sitting.  That’s a good thing as it tastes even better the next day.

Both Italy and the United States claim to be the originator of the recipe for penna alla vodka, a tomato sauce-based dish enhanced with cream and vodka.  Essentially the sauce can be added to a variety of dishes including gnocchi, ravioli and spaghetti.  Sal’s version, a rigatoni alla vodka has an element we hadn’t previously experienced.  While alla vodka is generally made with hot oil, Sal’s version emphasizes the word “hot.”  In fact, we wondered if we hadn’t been mistakenly served rigatoni Amatriciana instead.  While the dish proved very satisfying to me, my Kim found it too piquant.

Visiting Sal’s is a lot like visiting an old friend (or Italian matriarch) who makes guests feel welcome with bountiful bowls of delicious food. Too many visits and I’ll lose my own svelte figure.

Sal’s Ristorante & Pizzeria 
3301 Coors Road N.W., Suite 21
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 831-4191
Website| Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 8 October 2021
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Spaghetti Carbonara, Rigatoni Alla Vodka, Cold Cuts
REVIEW #1240

25 comments

  • Julie

    Rigatoni pasticiatti should be the next thing you try from the pasta menu. It’s spicy, but sausage gives it a different flavor than the amatriciana. Also try the meatballs!

    The hours are reduced now. Open Thursday through Sunday only.

  • Glad you made it to Sal's!

    Been away from your blog for a bit, so just now catching up.

    Glad you finally made it out to Sal’s! We’ve been meaning to try their pasta, but always go for the pizza. This was our 2nd favorite pizza in ABQ behind Poppy’s, so now it is our go-to when we get a pizza craving.

    As far as the Great Carbanara Debate of 2021 goes, my only question is, “Is it good?” I couldn’t care less if it’s traditional, I just want it to be good. Riff on any dish you want, just don’t screw it up! My $0.02.

  • David Wagner

    Gil, your use of “lucullan” is admirable. One of my favorite words. I will not weigh in on the carbonara issue other than to note that once you’ve tasted my wife’s carbonara, you will throw rocks at other carbonaras.

  • Ruben

    I used to eat here all the time when it was called mimmo’s. Loved the small buffet and the pizza was great. Great calzones too. Been there once since it changed its name to Sal’s. Seems to be the same minus the buffet. Great place to take a first date.

  • Momo

    Sal’s spaghetti carbonara is delicious – most people in New Mexico like extra sauce. Serve them Marcella Hazan’s portion, and people would freak out. Try their eggplant YUM

  • Thomas Molitor

    Compare this photo of the legendary Italian cuisine cook and author, Marcella Hazan, and her Spaghetti Carbonara with Sal’s “Spaghetti Carbonara.” The latter looks like the soupy slop special served in the Army.

    • Proud US Army Veteran

      You sound like an entitled snob. The closest you probably ever got to the Army was watching MASH.

    • Thomas Molitor

      Gil, do you think Sal’s uses egg yolk in its “Spaghetti Carbonara.”?

      • I’ve been to Italian restaurants in which a single raw egg yolk is stirred into piping hot noodles with grated cheese. The result is a lucullan and creamy, yet very light sauce for which carbonara is known. Since Sal’s didn’t present our spaghetti carbonara dish in this manner, it would be easy to surmise that egg yolk wasn’t used. Another telltale sign that egg yolk may not have been used is the runny sauce in which the pasta was virtually swimming. Still, I shouldn’t assume one way or another since I wasn’t in the kitchen when Sal’s chef was preparing our dish.

        • Thomas Molitor

          What a difference between Marcella Hazan’s (and the way Becky describes Carbonara) and Sal’s. Not even the same product. Sal’s looks more like an Alfredo.

          • That may indeed by the case, but I agree with Momo that it’s delicious. Momo may be right about people in New Mexico liking extra sauce. I certainly do. Maybe there IS room for various interpretations of a dish so long as the end result makes diners happy.

        • Thomas Molitor

          That’s an interesting comment you make about “not being in the kitchen.” I am reminded of the food critic for the New York Times, Bryan Miller, who said: “I knew my way around the kitchen, more or less, having taken cooking courses at the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, part of Johnson and Wales University in Providence, RI. To further groom myself as an alimentary authority, I signed on for a year-long apprenticeship at an acclaimed bistro in Connecticut called Restaurant du Village. This impressed upon me the belief that all aspiring restaurant critics should spend time toiling in a professional kitchen, to get a worm’s eye view of the apple, so to speak. You don’t need to be a chef, but you should be familiar with the parts under the hood, so when something breaks down you know where to look.”

          Gil, don’t you think a qualified restaurant critic with actual practical knowledge of food preparation and the ability to recognize cheap shortcuts would pick up on any deviations – he wouldn’t have to be “in the kitchen”?

          • When I started Gil’s Thrilling…my goal was to provide an every man’s (albeit with a sesquipedalian vocabulary) opinions about the foods he enjoys at restaurants not to explain every nuance of every ingredient and technique a chef may use. I have a very good understanding of how even the most subtle variations ingredients and techniques can influence the flavor and fragrance of almost every dish. It can be very scientific and boring to most people who read my musings to be entertained, receive a recommendation or cure insomnia. I don’t agree that a restaurant critic needs to be embedded in a professional kitchen in order to understand deviations to time-tested and traditional recipes. If my goal was to “out” chefs who don’t subscribe to culinary templates, this blog would read like something written by Don Rickles. Nor do I believe any chef sets out to employ “cheap shortcuts.” Every chef should take liberties to prepare a dish his or her way. The dining public will determine whether or not the dish was successfully executed.

            • Momo

              There is such a thing as Italian American food- if it doesn’t sell, the restaurant goes out of business. Call it whatever you want. New Mexicans may not even order “Spaghetti Carbonara” – they may ask, “what’s that one dish with that pasta and some pepper?” ………. “And bacon?” (Maybe) no offense to New Mexicans- and forgive me, but I’d like to see some raving reviews of Hazan’s recipe, because I can’t find many.

              • Thomas Molitor

                Momo: I think we’re debating separate issues. One, is the adherence to a classic Italian dish and how it is prepared. The other issue is how a local or regional dish is prepared to meet the palates of that locale.

                You are right in saying New Mexicans (generally speaking) may not ask for a Spaghetti Carbonara by name, but rather, the dish they get at Sal’s called Carbonara. And that’s how it should be.

                As Gil stated above, “my goal is to provide an every man’s opinion about the foods he enjoys at restaurants.”

                And he certainly does that. He lunches almost exclusively at strip-mall cafes or hideaway restaurants in which “extra sauce” and “large portions” are most definitely in demand.

                To wit, I don’t think of Gil as a “food critic” as he typically has very little negative things to say in his reviews (and I don’t think Gil would like to be referred to as a “food critic” either; but I could be wrong).

                He is more of an every man’s food taster, a person who ingests food to confirm it is safe and edible for his audience.

              • NateD

                Hi Gil,
                Apologies for perhaps an overreaction to Tom’s post as it sounds like maybe it was good natured ribbing that I mistook as disrespect. As a longtime fan of your site since the very beginning, my appreciation for you perhaps led to some knee jerk defensiveness and indulging in the worst online tendencies myself. I often have good-natured arguments with a friend of mine who has pretty exclusive tastes, whereas I enjoy the full spectrum of dining options, somewhat in line with the late great Anthony Bourdain who admitted to a secret, shameful love of KFC mac and cheese. I am no longer at the City on the Hill, I also left Intel, circa 2016 and after working in another field for a while, lost my mind and applied to medical school ,and am now in my third year at UNM. Life and the pandemic have gotten in the way of contributing to the site but rest assured I still visit the the site every week to check out your latest reviews. I will hopefully have time to throw in some additional commentary here and there, but to add something more interesting to everyone else, due to a family tradition, I’ve probably eaten at Mimmos (not yet been to Sals) more than any other restaurant in Abq, to the point I’ve literally eaten every single item on the menu. It’s not fine dining, and not always traditional italian, but it’s solid tasty food that is consistently good. My favorite over the years has been the weekend special of pasta with mussels and white garlic sauce (never had better in NM) and the amatriciana, also top notch. Good to hear from you to Gil, take care. 

            • Momo

              By the way, I called Sal’s- and he said he would make the “classic” Italian version for you if you request it.

              • NateD

                Tom,

                While you seem obsessed with accurate renditions of carbonara, your summation of Gil’s work are the most inaccurate comments I’ve ever seen on this website. To minimize his website as merely the musings of a food taster people read to ensure they aren’t poisoned and to say the restaurants he “exclusively frequents” are mostly patronized by slack jawed yokels who like extra sauce is laughably false. Maybe take a step back and consider what exactly are you contributing to the site with your comments because right now your preparation leaves a lot to be desired, a little too much arrogance with a double serving of boorishness, definitely inedible and could use a lot of improvement.

              • It’s so nice to hear from you again Nate. Are you still working at the “City on A Hill” or have you, too, discovered life after Intel?

                Don’t be too hard on Tom. He’s a 2016 Malbec to my 2021 Barq’s root beer, a big city sophisticate to my bumpkinly hick. We get along famously and have some pretty elevated discussions. Tom’s sole wish for Gil’s Thrilling is to elevate dialogue, to bring more commenters into discussions. To that end he may say things that rub others wrong, but he’s wholly well intended.

                Speaking of elevated dialogue, I hope we hear from you more often. Your comments are always thoughtful and provocative.

          • Larry E.

            Gil believes you want elevated dialogue and more commenters to the blog. You’ve got it.

            I agree with Nate. You are an insufferable boor and an elitist snob. It’s not enough for you to beat a dead horse, you grind it into glue.–with a raw egg, of course.

    • How rude (and to repeat Army Veteran),
      snobbish….. And on Columbus Day as well!!!!!
      A lot of spaghetti joints serve mush but this guy is the real Arthur Avenue deal. If you don’t know where that is you re not part of the Roman race.
      Go back to your highfalutin Pasta boutique.

  • Thomas Molitor

    How was the root beer?

    • Save for Diet Root Beer, there’s no such thing as bad Root Beer.

    • Thomas Molitor

      NateD,

      “slack jawed yokels,” “double serving of boorishness.” (Emphasis Yours.)

      In the traditional volley of British pub ridicule and rancor, I was just “taking the mickey out” of Sir Gil. If he can take extra sauce on his Carbonara, he certainly can take a few gibes to the ribs.

      Queen Elizabeth reportedly has a ‘Royal Taster’ who samples her meals before she does. The Queen would be very fortunate to have Sir Gil as her royal taster as it has been reported she prefers “extra sauce” and “large portions.”

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