Ask virtually every chef and home cook what the secret ingredient to good cooking is and invariably their answer will be “love.” Or in the case of Jersey Shore actor Michael Sorrentino, “The secret ingredient to every meal is love. And also garlic.” Be forewarned, however, divulging “love” as the secret ingredient to good cooking might just get you in hot water with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In 2017 the FDA reprimanded a bakery in Concord, Massachusetts for including the term “love” in its ingredient list for granola. The over-reaching, humorless federal agency’s warning letter admonished: “Your Nashoba Granola label lists ingredient ‘Love.’ Ingredients required to be declared on the label or labeling of food must be listed by their common or usual name. ‘Love’ is not a common or usual name of an ingredient, and is considered to be intervening material because it is not part of the common or usual name of the ingredient.”
It’s a good thing the FDA isn’t responsible for determining if movies contain profane, indecent or obscene content. Otherwise, a 2017 movie titled “A Taste of Love” might be declared obscene solely because its title implies love can be tasted. While it’s protecting Americans from mislabeled food ingredients by using that vile ingredient love, maybe the FDA would also censure the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) which synopsized that movie as “What is the taste of love?” Could it be sweet, sour, bitter or even salty? A girl embarks on an aromatic journey of love, stimulating her taste buds to the point of climax. With all senses, she explores the various forms love can take on.” Isn’t it a good thing we have the federal government to protect us from all those offensive references to love instead of wasting time trying to curb Putin’s inflation?
The FDA probably shouldn’t tell Kayla Vallejos that you can’t taste love. The entire premise of her restaurant’s name “Taste of Love” is based on the notion that you can taste love. It’s an essential ingredient in every item she prepares at her Lilliputian restaurant in the 505 Central Food Hall. Just speak with Kayla for a few minutes and you’ll discern that her passion for cooking is palpable. It’s readily apparent that not only was she born to cook, but that she’s very good at it. In fact she’s been doing it since she was thirteen. Kayla climbed that proverbial career ladder to achieve her dreams of owning a restaurant. She got her start at Burger King then had waitressing and bartending stints before a restaurant owner in her home state of New Jersey gave her the opportunity to cook.
Kayla worked in several kitchens, absorbing all the knowledge she could glean. She knew she was ready to venture out on her own when her culinary creations became the most requested items at the restaurants in which she worked. As with so many risk-taking entrepreneurs, Kayla and her wife Misty started the path to restaurant ownership in April, 2021, the tail end of the Pandemic. Their inaugural venture was a food truck described by Street Food Finder as a “New Food Truck bringing a variety of flavors from the East Coast Italian to Southwest! Handmade Pastas stuffed with Carne Adovada, Green Chile Alfredo Fries and more!” Taste of Love was born!
Thanks to immediate popular acclaim and traffic, Kayla and Misty believed they were ready to operate out of a brick-and-mortar establishment. Rather than risk the higher costs of prime location real estate, they launched inside 505 Central Food Hall at 505 Central. The urban food hall allows restaurateurs to operate high quality restaurants within smaller confines in a location that gives hungry diners nine lunch and dinner options. As with other tenants at the 505 Central Food Hall, Taste of Love relies on walk-ins. Taste of Love is located in a space immediately next door to Thicc, a fabulous purveyor of Detroit-style pizza. If you’re jonesing for Italian food, you’ve now got two great options under one roof from which to choose.
More than most Italian restaurants in the Albuquerque area, Taste of Love offers a fusion of the Land of Enchantment’s sacrosanct chile-based flavors with the Italian flavors, ingredients and dishes with which Kayla grew up in New Jersey. Kayla and Misty also incorporate fresh ingredients from their garden at home. Several of those ingredients are depicted on a wall abutting their restaurant. The counter at which you place your order stands next to a pastry case where you can ogle such sweets as Oreo & Cream Rice Krispie treats. A small menu overhead lists what will likely become some of your very favorite Italian dishes in the Duke City. Visit the menu online and you’ll read “Menu items are subject to change based on availability.”
Baked ravioli (with Calabrian chile made by Kayla and Misty) was the one unavailable item on the menu during our inaugural visit, but our disappointment was only short-lived. For such a small menu, there are so many intriguing (make that mouth-watering) options to pick from and they’re all “heart to table.” Kayla told us the meatball (grandma’s recipe) slider trio is an early favorite and will likely stick around. A menu section called “Paninis & More” is sure to be a popular option for sandwich lovers. Each panini is served with kettle chips or a side salad and you can add green chile to any panini for a pittance. Because every item is made to order, you may have to wait a few minutes before indulging. It’s all worth the wait.
Mycophiles (people who love mushrooms) take great comfort in knowing there are over 38,000 varieties of fungus that give mushrooms like their “meaty” taste and texture. Taste of Love needs only one variety in their stuffed mushrooms which are brimming with Chimayo spiced Italian sausage, marinated mushrooms, Romano and greens all drizzled with a Balsamic. That Balsamic consorts magically with the other ingredients in unexpected ways. We didn’t, for example, expect the interplay between the sweet-astringent-caramel-like Balsamic and the deeply earthy mushrooms. Then there’s the Chimayo spiced Italian sausage with its sweet and piquant notes. This is a starter in which every ingredient works well together.
Cloudy or sunny, there’s more than a chance of meatballs at Taste of Love. Three chances in one dish, in fact. Quickly becoming the restaurant’s first big hit, meatball trio sliders showcase meatballs in three delicious ways. Picture three three-ounce meatballs each with a different sauce: walnut-basil pesto, green chile Alfredo and marinara. Each meatball slider has its own personality, each is delicious, each is nestled between fantastic buns from Sergio’s Bakery. We were especially enamored of the green chile Alfredo sauce, but that’s like declaring a favorite child when you love them all. If you’re tired of bouncy, all-filler meatballs, you’ll love Taste of Love’s meatballs.
One panini which best exemplifies just how much love Kayla and Misty put into their culinary creations is the Caprese panini. Not only do they smoke tomatoes over cherry wood, they pull and stretch the mozzarella, grow the fresh basil and create the Calabrian chile oil. This sandwich is absolute genius, love being a very obvious ingredient despite what the FDA might say. All the flavors coalesce into a wonderful and artistic composite, like a symphony in which every instrument hits the right notes at the right time. Though there is no meat in this panini, the mozzarella gives it a complete protein. Kayla likened the colors of the ingredients–red, green and white–to the Italian flag, but pointed out that if you arrange them a little differently, they’re the colors of the Mexican flag, too. This sandwich deserves a flag at full mast.
If you have any doubts as to love being an essential ingredient in great food, Taste of Love will dispel those doubts. There’s plenty of love in every dish!
Taste of Love
505 Central Avenue, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 21 May 2022
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Meatball Trio Sliders, Stuffed Mushrooms, Grilled Caprese Panini