You know you’ve been involved in project management for too long when the only thing that comes to mind when told about a restaurant named “El Roi” is “why would a restaurant be named for a Return on Investment (ROI).” For those of us who have worked in Information Technology, ROI is a financial ratio used to calculate the benefit an investor will receive in relation to their investment cost. Restaurants often have a poor return of investment–not just in financial capital, but in human capital. Restaurants require a significant investment in time by owners as well as kitchen and “front of the house” staffs and the financial return isn’t exactly lucrative. My Kim theorized that Roi is probably a preferred derivation of Roy. “By poor spellers,” I chortled.
It turns out my brainy bride was correct…well, almost. According to Namedat, a website which takes social security administration data and converts it to facts and stats about names of people in the United States, there are actually 8,706 humans in the country with the first name Roi. Naturally one of the very first questions we asked when we finally made it to El Roi is just what does the name mean. Owner-chef Joshua Archuleta explained “El Roi” was the name by which an Egyptian slave named Hagar addressed God. This event from Genesis 16:13 is the only time in which “El Roi” is found in the Bible. Translating to “the God who sees me,” El Roi ascribes another attribute to God.
Chef Archuleta so admires the Genesis passage that he uses a framed placard to answer the question “Who is El Roi.” He’s also quite proud of an autograph legendary artist Georgia O’Keeffe presented to his grandmother. O’Keeffe actually shared some of her recipes with the chef’s grandmother. Some of the items on the menu are prepared from those recipes. Framed paintings from famous Navajo artist Fred Cleveland, a frequent guest at El Roi, hang on one wall. There’s something to see everywhere you turn at this Lilliputian space.
As interesting as the artwork is, one of the “decorative touches” which most got our attention is a large wooden crate next to the pastry case. Haystacks Calhoun‘s coffin I jested. Thankfully Chef Archuleta clarified that the “crate” is used to store supplies not as an oversized coffin. The pastry case is where the featured cake or pie of the day is in full display while the menu on a wall behind the order counter not only lists menu items, but photographs that show how tasty they are.
El Roi has a Lomas address, but it’s recessed somewhat and not exactly easy to find. If you’re driving west and see Pasion Latin Fusion, you’ve gone too far. It’s also not especially large; it’s basically half of a duplex structure with one half unoccupied. Step inside and the restaurant’s size is even more evident. Most seating is “two top” and there aren’t a lot of them. It may surprise you therefore that the menu is pretty ambitious, offering both Native American and New Mexican cuisine.
Among the former are blue corn mush, mutton stew, a fry bread green chile cheeseburger (with or without fries), Indian taco, mutton sandwich and sweet fry bread bites. The fry bread green chile cheeseburger was one of “20 Burgers You Need to Eat Now” according to New Mexico Magazine. In its May, 2022 edition the magazine essentially declared those 20 burgers the “top 20 green chile cheeseburgers” in the state. Read what New Mexico Magazine had to say in the paragraph below.
“The El Roi wants to Indigenize your green chile cheeseburger game. When owner Fabby Espitia-Archuleta opened the Albuquerque diner with her husband, Joshua Archuleta, in May 2021, they set out to help at-risk community members gain job skills. The result is a menu of traditional New Mexican and Native American comfort foods, including a frybread green chile cheeseburger ($13). “The frybread gives it so much more flavor,” says Fabby, who emphasizes that a sopaipilla and frybread are not the same. “We do a traditional frybread from scratch,” using a recipe from Joshua’s family in Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo. “There’s not enough Native restaurants,” she says. “So that’s something we are trying to grow.”
You might think that with such an effusive endorsement, I would have leapt at the opportunity to add another green chile cheeseburger to my trophy wall, but (darn that menu) the prospect of a mutton sandwich overruled my burger cravings. You just don’t find many mutton sandwiches in Central New Mexico even though it’s a staple in the Native American community. Not on bread is this sandwich presented, but on crispy fry bread. In addition to the tender, grass-fed cuts of lamb, the sandwich includes a pleasantly piquant green chile and melted cheese. It’s a very good sandwich though as with too many sandwiches, my sole complaint is the stinginess of the ingredients (specifically the lamb). With a more generous portion, this sandwich would warrant lots of love and attention from Gil’s Thrilling.
Never mind Native American and New Mexican food. Sometimes my Chicago-born-and-bred bride craves the foods (mostly meat and potatoes)of her homeland and not even chile can assuage her cravings. Her cravings were sated with a plate of steak and eggs (she eschewed potatoes and asked for corn). She’s a much bigger fan of steak than her husband so we’ll have to take her word for it that this plate was excellent. Me, unless it has red and (or) green chile, I won’t touch a steak at a New Mexican restaurant.
Dessert options include mini fry breads covered in powdered sugar and topped with chocolate syrup and ice cream (two scoops in a bowl). A cheesecake in the pastry case was my Kim’s choice. Topped with a strawberry sauce, it was a rich, creamy and delicious postprandial choice. So was the watermelon agua fresca, a refreshing beverage any time of year but especially on a hot May day.
One of these days I’ll invite my Information Technology colleagues to El Roi to enjoy their confusion. The nerdier ones will probably pull out their calculators to figure out whether the investment warrants the cost. Others will discern it’s another one of Gil’s restaurant finds. They’ll enjoy it as much as we did.
El Roi Cafe
616 Lomas Boulevard, N.W., Suite A
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 11 May 2022
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Mutton Sandwich, Sweet Potato Fries, Steak & Eggs