“God could not be everywhere, and therefore he made mothers.”
Should you have the pleasure of getting to know Chef Marie Yniguez, even a little, you’ll come away with three absolute certainties. First, Albuquerque’s arguably most famous celebrity chef is unabashedly herself. The happy, loving, gregarious person you’ve seen on numerous Food Network culinary competitions doesn’t have a pretentious bone in her body. She is as genuine and sincere as they come. Though she left the hardscrabble mining town of Hurley, New Mexico a lifetime ago, she remains a country girl at heart. And even though she was recently announced as a semi-finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s “Best Chef – Southwest” honor, she remains as humble as if she was starting out again at the very bottom of the competitive chef pyramid.
Second, it’s an absolute certainty that you’re going to like the effusive chef. She makes it a point to greet guests to her restaurant and traffic permitting, will visit with them to ensure they’re enjoying their experience (not just their meals). Marie is a warm soul with a disarming sense of humor and ability to make everyone feel like a good friend. She has a broad smile and joyful laugh, especially when watching her precocious grandson Isaiah at play. To know her is to like her. You can’t help yourself.
The third–and probably most absolute certainty–is that “familia” is everything to Chef Marie. You’ll probably never meet anyone as proud of a daughter as Marie is about her precious Ryan. Everything she’s building as a restaurateur, she emphasizes, is for her daughter and her cherished grandson. Marie’s eyes also light up when she speaks about the love of her life, her wife Karla. Theirs is one of those rare relationships that bespeak of a forever love. Familia extends to her loyal servers and restaurant staff, many of whom have been with her for years. She laughs easily at the exploits of her four-legged children Betty, a wirehair dachshund and Rose, a pit bull.
Her broad expanse of familia wouldn’t be complete without the reverence with which she holds the moms in her life. You’ll notice her new restaurant’s name is “My Moms” plural, not “My Mom’s” singular possessive. She didn’t name her restaurant in honor of her mother Olga, but for the moms she holds dearest–her grandmothers, wife Karla, mother Olga and daughter Ryan. A painting of a single red rose with an equally red heart bisects the names of Marie’s treasured moms.
In the “About” section of My Moms Facebook page, Marie explains: “We have learned how to cook from our moms and them from their moms and became moms in the process! So, this is our way of teaching our children! So in turn, our traditions can be passed down for generations to come! Food from New Mexican Moms!” The concept of cooking being passed on from mothers to their children is so important to Marie that she and Ryan are writing a book that will celebrate the cooking traditions of moms in her family. She’s awestruck at the thought that the posole it took her grandmother hours to cook over a wood stove can now be prepared in minutes.
Yet another mom Marie holds in reverence is La Virgen De Guadalupe whom she refers to as “the mother of all mothers.” In the dining room right next to the name “My Moms” scrawled on the wall is a black and white drawing of the Virgin Mary, patron saint of Mexico. Marie has a similar tattoo on her right arm. She’s quick to point out that directly across 4th Street from My Moms is the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s office. La Virgen de Guadalupe, she believes, offers the dual benefit of protecting the sheriff’s officers as they go out on patrol and of offering solace to criminals in need of a mother’s love.
Though she’s garnered significant national recognition and accolades for Bocadillos, My Moms is THE restaurant she believes will be her culinary magnus-opus. From her heart, she explains the reason behind the restaurant: “This concept comes from my love for my mom, grandmas, aunties, sister daughter and wife. It’s the love you feel when you go visit, and the first thing out after saying hello, is “are you hungry? Have you eaten?” and even if you aren’t hungry, or have already eaten you can’t not eat! Then, when you eat that little bowl of love you feel all warm inside. No matter what it is you feel loved. Only a mom can make you feel that way! Even if your mom can’t cook, even if she just makes you a sandwich, it has nothing but love in it. We grew up with such simple eating and ingredients, nothing fancy, but it was made with love.”
She adds: “We want to share our love of family, food and tradition with you. We want to bring you into our little world and hopefully you can feel our family’s love and passion for food simply done right! To be a mom is so special and to be able to pass our traditions to future generations is our goal. You learn how to cook from your mom and her from grandma and so on down the line. I want to dedicate this restaurant to all the moms out there doing their best to feed their babies. No matter who you are when you walk in our doors, you will feel like home and leave feeling all warm inside.”
Today the beautiful Ryan with whom America fell in love during an episode of Guy Fieri’s Grocery Games is at the helm at Bocadillos. My Moms and Bocadillos are within walking distance of each other in the business district just south of Lomas (lucky Sarita). Marie admits the Cabrona virus has made it a risk to stay in business in an area heavily reliant on walk-in traffic. When the virus forced the world to close, that walk-in traffic became much more scarce as many area workers began working from home.
My Moms resides in the building which once housed the Bank of America. Signage directing you to Marie’s eatery is subtle in keeping with the tenor of the area. Step inside, however, and the personality of its buoyant owner shines through. Marie and Ryan decorated the space, including the artwork on the tables. It’s a pristine space with west-facing windows facing the sheriff’s office. As at Bocadillos, walk-in traffic is bustling. Marie seems to know everyone who walks in.
You’ll place your order at a strategically placed pastry case replete with calorific indulgences sure to get you going in the morning. They all look so good you just might miss what’s scrawled on the bottom of the pastry case: “My Moms All Chingona.” Chingona is a Spanish slang term meaning “bad ass woman.” That’s a sentiment Marie ascribes to all the moms in her life. My Moms, the restaurant, is also “all chingona,” one bad ass restaurant owned and operated by one bad ass woman.
Admittedly it’s a big of a challenge to study the menu while ogling baked goods so tempting you might want to lick the glass. My advice–order a pastry or five and eat one while perusing the menu. My Moms is open only for breakfast and lunch with breakfast served only until 11AM. You’ll notice that many of the entrees are named for the moms in Marie’s life: Ramona’s breakfast burrito, Marie’s Green Chile Sausage Biscuit’s n Gravy, Olga’s Green Chile Con Carne, Karla’s beans and more. It’s a menu Marie was born to create.
Because Marie’s a bit of a rebel herself, it’s only fitting that the donuts in the pastry case come from Albuquerque’s Rebel Donut. It’s also fitting that these donuts aren’t monochromatic. You’d never expect that from Marie. These donuts are colorful and adorned with icing resembling roses, red and green chiles and more. M&M candies and crushed peanuts adorn other donuts. You’ll even espy chocolate and vanilla donuts in the shape of the skeletal characters from Dia De Los Muertos.
Though Rebel donuts are absolutely fabulous, they’re not the exclusive domain of My Moms; you can find them throughout the city. For baked goods exclusive to My Mom’s, you’ve got to order the chocolate-cherry cake baked by Ryan (who obviously inherited her mom’s talents). If you love chocolate (and who doesn’t), you’ll dream about this cake. Baked right into the cake, the cherries are like a pleasant surprise, bursting with flavor without being overly sweet (like those nightmarish cherry cordials).
When she authored Frommer’s Santa Fe, Taos and Albuquerque Travel Guide, the wonderful Lesley King listed “Northern New Mexico Enchiladas” as among “the most unforgettable Northern New Mexico Experiences,” indicating that there are few things more New Mexican than the enchilada. I couldn’t agree more and tend to consider enchiladas a good benchmark for restaurants which serve New Mexican food. When visiting for the first time a restaurant featuring New Mexican food, enchiladas are usually what I’ll order.
16 February 2022: In keeping with that approach, my inaugural entree at My Moms is one named for Marie’s own mom: Olga’s Flat Red Chile Enchiladas with an egg on top. It didn’t surprise me to see that these enchiladas are served flat which seems to be the standard for home cooks in rustic areas of New Mexico. That’s not an absolute, but it really does seem urban home cooks and restaurants roll their enchiladas. It did surprise me that the red chile wasn’t at all piquant. I had assumed Marie would prepare an incendiary chile. Though lacking heat, it didn’t lack for flavor. More than any red chile in recent memory, Marie’s chile has wondrous smoky qualities and fruity notes that seem to accentuate the sharpness of the Cheddar. It’s a chile that might tempt you to lick the plate….sooo good!
16 February 2022: Reasoning that since Bocadillos serves the very best sandwiches in the metropolitan area, my Kim scanned the menu and stopped at the NM Patty Melt (with Asadero cheese, caramelized onion and green chile). It was an excellent choice. She declared it the best patty melt she’s ever had, pointing out the perfect ratio of beef to bun to condiments. She also noted that the mustard (yes, the mustard) is the ingredient which ties everything together. Marie confirmed it’s just regular French’s mustard (there go my bride’s illusions of homemade mustard).
While the mustard does indeed shine resplendently, it really is a balanced sandwich offering complimentary and contrasting flavor notes–the sweetness of the caramelized onions, the sharpness of the Asadero, the perfectly seasoned and right-sized beef patty and lightly toasted, buttery bread that holds everything together. Being a burger man myself, I’ve never fully understood the patty melt, reasoning it’s just a sandwich wishing it was a burger. This patty melt may just change my mind.
18 February 2022: There’s nothing insincere or nonsensical about the love of baloney and Spam. Both have long been favorite among families in rural New Mexico. That’s a realization some restaurants are only now starting to grasp though Marie, who like me grew up in a rural area, grew up eating and loving fried baloney and Spam sandwiches. Rural New Mexicans love the log-sized baloney we slice ourselves so that it’s three or four times the height of the single-sliced baloney sold in supermarkets. We like to grill or fry it over low heat so that it acquires a smoky char and we love our baloney and Spam fried and deposited between two lightly toasted slices of bread.
That’s how Marie prepares her baloney sandwich: two thick slices of grilled baloney, melted cheese, lettuce and mustard. It’s the baloney sandwich of my youth recaptured. I had meant to take the sandwich home for later, but one bite led to ten bites and before you know it, the entire sandwich was gone. It was absolutely delicious. Baloney and Spam may be the “Rodney Dangerfield” of meat products, but if you order a sandwich the way Marie prepares it, you’ll prefer it to caviar and lobster.
18 February 2022: New Mexicans tend to be blue-collar, meat-and-potatoes eaters (or in the case of breakfast, biscuits-and-gravy (with green chile, of course)). Marie’s green chile sausage biscuits n’ gravy is a breakfast offering you’ll want to get up early in the morning for. The biscuits are buttery and fluffy served parted in the middle like the Red Sea courtesy of Moses. Cream green chile sausage gravy is slathered generously atop the biscuit. It’s a substantial meal I couldn’t finish after having devoured the baloney sandwich, but it heats up well.
18 February 2022: If you don’t want something as substantial as the green chile sausage biscuits and gravy, the carnita tacos (queso fresco, pickled red onion, cilantro tomatilllo sauce, chile pequin and avocado crema) are an excellent choice. Served two per order, these tacos are artfully arranged with ingredients splayed out like edible art on soft corn tortillas. They taste as good as they look.
Author Mitch Albom wrote “I don’t know what it is about food your mother makes for you, especially when it’s something that anyone can make – pancakes, meat loaf, tuna salad – but it carries a certain taste of memory.” Thanks to the influence of the moms in her life, Chef Marie Yniguez creates the taste of memory for all diners who visit her restaurants. She is a credit to all moms.
500 4th Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 18 February 2022
1st VISIT: 16 February 2022
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Olga’s Flat Red Chile Enchiladas, Patty Melt, Rebel Donuts, Chocolate Cherry Cake, Carnitas Tacos, Fried Baloney Sandwich, Marie’s Green Chile Sausage Biscuit’s n Gravy