NEW MEXICO CHEF NAMED A JAMES BEARD AWARD FINALIST: The James Beard awards are often referred to as “the Oscars of the food world.” When the James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards are presented on Monday, June 5, it’s very unlikely any nominee will jump on stage to deck the event moderator. That’s especially true if that nominee is Chef Justin Pioche, New Mexico’s sole finalist on the Best Chef – Southwest list. Chef Pioche is one of the most modest and self-effacing people you’ll ever meet. In a profession of massive egos (though not nearly on the scale of Hollywood’s glitterati), Chef Pioche is soft-spoken and quick to credit his family for the success of the Pioche Food Group based in Fruitland, New Mexico. Chef Pioche will join four other finalists from the Southwest Region (New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma and Nevada) for the awards presentation. You can experience Chef Pioche’s outstanding culinary skills on April 22nd when he and his family will host a nine-course dining experience called LorAmy in Farmington. I promise it will be one of the best dining experiences you’ll experience this or any other year.
WHERE TO EAT IN ALBUQUERQUE ACCORDING TO BROOKLYN-BASED CHEF FROM ALBUQUERQUE: Eric See, chef-owner of Ursula, a New Mexican café in Brooklyn was asked by Bon Apetit “to guide us through a food-packed day of eating through this high desert culinary gem.” Chef See’s recommendations include “unrivaled breakfast burritos and inventive pastries” from such Duke City favorites as The Frontier Restaurant and the Burque Bakehouse (review pending). Chef See also encourages a visit to a “cultural institution” we all know and love as the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. “For lunch, glorious chicharrones or red chile enchiladas,” Chef See recommends the Duran Central Pharmacy and Perico’s where you’ll find “the most wonderful combination of refried pinto beans, melted cheese, red chile and meaty, rich chicharron wrapped in a soft flour tortilla.” In the category of “steak for two or a modern New Mexican dinner,” the esteemed chef tips his hat toward Antiquity Restaurant and Campo at Los Poblanos. I’m almost embarrassed at the number of restaurants he recommended that I haven’t visited.
NEW MEXICO HAS AN OFFICIAL STATE AROMA: On Tuesday, March 28th, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed Senate Bill 188, passing into law declaring an official state aroma — the smell of roasting green chile. New Mexico became the first state to adopt an official aroma. While most New Mexicans are very proud of the aroma of green chile, detractors (like my friend Schuyler) joked that “the official state aroma actually emanates from bovine fecal matter at the State Capital where instead of passing crime legislation, the State Legislature thought an official state aroma was more important.” Where do you, my dear readers, stand on this weighty topic.
DOESN’T LOS POLLOS HERMANOS HAVE A CHICKEN SANDWICH: Surely the enterprising Gus Freen’s franchise Los Pollos Hermanos offers a chicken sandwich? Surely he can exert the type of influence necessary for his chicken sandwich to be selected as the best in the state. Eat This, Not That! compiled a list of the best chicken sandwich in every state — just in time for National Poultry Day (March 19)! If you forgot all about National Poultry Day and you’re not in the vicinity of Los Pollos Hermanos but want a terrific chicken sandwich, Eat This, Not That! recommends you visit Jambo Cafe in Santa Fe: “In a state defined by bold Tex-Mex flavors, you may assume that the best chicken sandwich plays on south-of-the-border flavors. You are in for a shock if you expect New Mexico’s best chicken sandwich to follow suit when you visit Jambo Cafe. The restaurant immediately hits you with the Caribbean and African flavors, and their chicken sandwich follows suit. For some exotic flavors, try their jerk chicken sandwich, with all the spiciness of the Bahamas.” Much as I love Jambo Cafe, how can you trust a publication that says New Mexico is defined by bold Tex-Mex flavors? Those are fighting words!
REST IN PEACE DAGMAR: In her last Facebook post, Dagmar Gertrude Ingeborg Schulze Marshall Mondragon remained optimistic about making a full recovery from the most recent of the many recent health woes that plagued her otherwise rich and wonderful life. Dagmar refused to be defined by those health woes. Instead, we’ll remember her as not only an extraordinary chef and baker, but as one of the kindest, most loving and optimistic souls to ever grace our Earthly plane. Dagmar was devoted to her customers. It’s now time for us to give back for all the wonderful meals, conversations and love we’ve shared over the years. Dagmar’s family would like to continue Dagmar’s legacy under the guiding hand of Dagmar’s talented mother Ingeborg’s with the help of her trusted and skilled employees. A public Celebration of her Life (hopefully at the bakery!) is planned for October and all are welcome to attend. In the meantime, the family is asking her loyal customers to consider gifting the bakery just what you might have usually spent at Dagmar’s this month. This will help take care of her amazing employees and cover the overhead obligations over the next few weeks until Dagmar’s Delectables is able to reopen.
SATIRIZING THE SMELL OF NEW MEXICO: Late Show host Stephen Colbert probably won’t be welcomed in the Land of Enchantment any time soon. On the February 2nd episode of his show, the satirical comic lampooned recent debate by the New Mexico State Legislature: “There’s a story out of New Mexico where they’re considering making the roasted chile its official state aroma,” He explained that a New Mexican senator visited a class of fifth graders and they “sparked a conversation about these savory hot peppers and the potential for New Mexico to become the first state in the nation to have an official state aroma.” So far so good, then came the perfunctory punchline: “I always assumed that the official New Mexico aroma was an abandoned RV that a bobcat is living in.”
NATIVE AMERICAN CHEFS BEING NOTICED: In a very enlightening article, the Washington Post celebrated Native American Chefs whose work inspires a wider reckoning. The article centered primarily on Sean Sherman, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe. Raised at Pine Ridge, a reservation in South Dakota that is the nation’s poorest. In 2018, Sherman won a James Beard Award for a cookbook; in 2019, for leadership; and in 2022, for best new restaurant for Owamni, which showcases Indigenous flavors and cooking. “To many of the nation’s nearly 4 million Native Americans in 574 federally recognized tribes, Owamni’s win seemed like a tipping point toward reclaiming long-trodden dignity.” The article also highlighted the accomplishments of Davida Becenti, a Diné and Hawaiian chef at Indian Pueblo Kitchen, in Albuquerque. Bicenti indicated: “It’s always about family. Whoever comes into the restaurant, that’s my family.” Family is integral to James Beard Best Chef – Southwest Nominee Justin Pioche of the Pioche Food Group in Fruitland, New Mexico. Attend one of his wonderful LorAmy events and you’ll meet his close-knit and very supportive family.
BOBBY FLAY CREDITS NEW MEXICO’S GREEN CHILE CHEESEBURGER: New Mexicans are justifiably proud of our sacrosanct green chile cheeseburger. It’s one of our most enchanting foods and is universally beloved (save among vegans). Like many of us, Food Network celebrity chef Bobby Flay likes nothing more than a great burger. During a 2014 interview with Delish, the grilling guru declared: “A few years back, when I was filming Food Nation for the Food Network, I went to this restaurant in New Mexico called La Casa Sena, where I was served an incredibly good green chile cheeseburger. That burger really stuck with me, so much, in fact, that I revamped it for Mesa Grill‘s lunch menu. Those flavors also served as an inspiration for the Santa Fe burger, which is served at Bobby’s Burger Palace.
ALBUQUERQUE BAKER AMONG AMERICA’S BEST: There are eleven instances in which you’ll find the term “baker” in the Bible. The Old Testament does not appear to have held bakers in very high esteem. Passages talk about impaling bakers, imprisoning them, and even hanging them. Contemporary America definitely holds bakers in much higher esteem than did the Pharaohs of the Old Testament. In the fruited plain, we honor them and recognize the many contributions they make to our well-being and happiness. Food & Wine found a bakery in every state worthy of accolades. In its “100 Best Bakeries in America” the only bakery from the Land of Enchantment to make it to that list was Albuquerque’s Golden Crown Panaderia. Food & Wine had this to say: “The anise-scented biscochitos, one of New Mexico’s favorite treats, are a highlight at this Old Town institution, run by father-and-son duo Pratt Morales and Chris Morales. But it’s the bread, specifically the green chile bread, that is everything you want from a bakery in New Mexico and will have you going out of your way to getting here.”
FORMER CORRALES RESTAURATEUR FOUND: Six degrees of separation is the idea that all people are six or fewer social connections away from each other. As a result, a chain of “friend of a friend” statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six connections. It is indeed a small world. Bruce Terzes, a Corrales resident and long-time friend of this blog found that out when connecting via a web search with a long-lost connection. Mama’s Cafe in Ukiah, California, it turns out, is helmed by “Heidi from the long closed Roadrunner Coffee of Corrales, Home of the Roadrunner Breakfast Sandwich (utilizing their fantastic green chili cheddar cheese rolls) and my most sorely missed weekly Espresso Hazelnut scones!” Bruce has often mentioned how much he’s missed their presence in the village. The menu listed on Mama’s website will tell you why.
NORTH OF SANTA FE ENCHANTING DINERS: Expansive views of the Jemez Mountains and of Georgia O’Keeffe country–whether bathed in pink, coral and gold sunset hues or under New Mexico’s incomparable cerulean skies–combine with the surreal topography of unnaturally contorted rock formations and juniper laden foothills to form the unique vistas which await guests at Three Forks at Rancho de San Juan, New Mexico’s premier country inn and restaurant. At night those views are obfuscated by a canopy of stars spilling from an ebony sky so clear and unencumbered that you might swear you can see forever. That’s how I started my review of a beloved establishment that shuttered its doors in 2012. Those views are once again available at NOSA (North of Santa Fe), a restaurant described by The Chalk Report as “a destination restaurant.” According to the article, the restaurant is only open for dinner Friday and Saturday, offering a prix-fixe 5-course menu ($85) and for 5-course brunch ($65) at two seatings (11:30am and 1:30pm) on Sundays. Guests staying in the rooms can pre-book a breakfast on any day ($25).
STATE LEGISLATURE CONSIDERING BILL: A recent statewide industry survey from the New Mexico Restaurant Association indicated 80% of restaurants increased their menu prices and 49% reduced their hours of operation. Keeping restaurants fully staffed has been a major a problem too despite 23% of New Mexico’s restaurants having made staffing cuts. 600 restaurants across the Land of Enchantment received help from the Federal Restaurant Revitalization fund, a fund that nationally helped restaurants keep their doors open due to the troubles from the pandemic. Those who didn’t receive that extra cash still need help. The New Mexico Restaurant Association is pushing for Senate Bill 121 in the Roundhouse saying it would help them out. It’s a proposal that would mean restaurants would not have to pay that tax for food or drinks they serve. That bill is in committee.
ROADRUNNER FOOD BANK HOSTS SOUPER BOWL: Virtually every culinary culture boasts of a beloved soup–from borcht in the Ukraine to Vietnamese pho–exemplifying its ideals for comfort food. Soup can be luxurious or simple. They can be made with or without meat. Whether thick and creamy or light and brothy and whether you can cook one up in 20 minutes or let one simmer all day long, few things in life are as delicious and comforting as soup. For soups of all kinds, there is no venue better than the Roadrunner Food Bank which hosted its annual Souper Bowl on February 4th. Souper Bowl 2023 was attended by around one-thousand soup fanatics who enjoyed soups and desserts prepared by nearly forty of the Albuquerque area’s best restaurants. Winners of the competition are shown below, but the real winners were those of us who enjoyed so many sumptuous soups.
Critics Choice Soup:
1st Place- Larry McGoldrick Award: Slate Street Billiards (Rio Rancho) for Sweet Potato Chorizo Chili
2nd Place – Gobble This (Albuquerque Old Town) for Salvi Style Turkey Sopa de Crema
3rd Place – Mas Tapas Y Vino (Albuquerque Hotel Andaluz) for Salmon and Saffron Corn Chowder
People’s Choice Soup:
1st Place – 2023 Souper Bowl Champion: Old Town Catering for Roasted Butternut Squash and Pear Soup
2nd Place – Fuego 505 for Coconut Mushroom Curry
3rd Place – Roti NM for Caldo de Pollo With Blue Corn Tortilla and Avocado
People’s Choice Vegetarian Soup:
1st Place – Fuego 505 for Coconut Mushroom Curry
2nd Place – Turtle Mountain Brewing Company (Rio Rancho) for Sweet Corn Bisque
3rd Place: Old Town Catering for Roasted Butternut Squash and Pear Soup
People’s Choice Dessert:
1st Place: Nothing Bundt Cakes
2nd Place: Roti NM
Third Place: Special Touch Catering
People’s Choice Best Booth: Special Touch Catering
JAMES BEARD BEST CHEF SOUTHWEST SEMI-FINALISTS NAMED: “And the James Beard Award for Best Chef – Southwest” goes to…” We won’t actually know who will actually win the award for a few months from, but we do know that five of the semi-finalists for one of the most prestigious accolades in the culinary world are at the helm of some of the very best restaurants in New Mexico. Perhaps indicative of a broader, more expansive nomination criteria, nominees aren’t exclusively from fine dining restaurants in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. In fact, you can’t go much further away from fine dining in the state’s culinary epicenters than the Navajo Nation where nominee Justin Pioche of the Pioche Food Group plies his craft. Nor by any measure can you consider Tikka Spice, Albuquerque’s triple crown award-winning restaurant, a fine dining establishment. Tikka Spice and its chef Basit Gauba earned their stripes from a food truck Then there’s El Chile Toreado, Santa Fe’s beloved purveyor of terrific tacos, which also operates from a food truck. Only Andrea Meyer of the Love Apple in Taos and David Sellers of Santa Fe’s Horno Restaurant operate as traditional upscale (though not necessarily fine-dining) restaurants.
ALBUQUERQUE AMONG BEST FOOD CITIES IN THE PLANET: In selecting “The Best Food Cities to Travel To in 2023,” Eater “thought not just about hit lists and must-try dishes (though those are important, too), but also the aspects of meals that make them feel immersive: the people, environment, culture, and history behind foods that force us to pause, inspire us to stray off the preplanned path, and tempt us to stay forever.” When you consider that criteria, proud New Mexicans will see several locations within the Land of Enchantment that belong on that list…even when you consider that Eater’s compilation included such culinary hotbeds as Sardinia, Italy; Kolkata, India; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Cambridge, England and Dakar, Senegal. The only other American city on the list was Ashville, North Carolina. The segment about Albuquerque indicates “For years Route 66 (and later I-40) took travelers through Albuquerque, where they’d pull over to dine on Southwestern specialties like red and green Christmas-style chile enchiladas — and then quickly move on. That roadside culture has faded, but in its place the Duke City now enjoys an allure of its own. Bars and restaurants gaining national recognition now dot a revitalized stretch of old Route 66 in the Nob Hill neighborhood.”
ALBUQUERQUE’S 25 ESSENTIAL RESTAURANTS: “Commonly called the “smallest big city,” the bustling mini-metropolis of nearly 600,000 residents is more than just a pit stop in the middle of the desert. The vibe is funky, fun, and laid-back (another joking nickname is the “land of mañana”), and it can hold its own when it comes to attractions and charm.” That’s how the uber-talented Justin De La Rosa began an Eater article showcasing “The 25 Essential Albuquerque Restaurants.” Any list of 25 essential Albuquerque restaurants could easily have become a compilation of legendary institutions such as Mary & Tito’s, the Monte Carlo Steakhouse, Duran Central Pharmacy, Barelas Coffee House, El Modelo and other venerable restaurants with a national profile. While those hallowed halls of dining are essential to the Duke City’s culinary culture, Justin’s list also included newcomers sure to become a fabric of the city for decades to come. Those included the 505 Central Food Hall, Grove Cafe & Market, Farm & Table, The Shop Breakfast & Lunch, M’Tucci’s Bar Roma and Central Bodega. It’s a great list sure to include a few of your favorites.
NEXT GREAT FOODIE DESTINATION: It’s not only Eater who predicts Albuquerque will be the “Next Great Foodie Destination.” Inside Hook, which purports to be “your expert-built guide to the things that matter most for anyone looking to nurture a meaningful, ongoing connection to the worlds of culture, wellness and leisure” believes “the city’s culinary frontier has expanded.” Inside Hook believes “If you’re looking for the next great foodie destination in the country, look no further. From classic spots you can’t miss to innovative new establishments, here’s where to eat (and drink) in Albuquerque.” The article goes on to list such hotspots as The Frontier Restaurant, Mas Tapas Y Vino, Campo at Los Poblanos and even Blake’s Lotaburger. It celebrates such unique aspects do dining in the Duke City as taking a taco tour by bike.
GUY FIERI RETURNS TO JAMBO: The premise of the Food Network’s Triple D Nation is for host Guy Fieri to return to some of the “most memorable joints” previously featured in Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives to check in on how things are going. One of the restaurants featured in a January, 2023 episode of Triple D nation was Santa Fe’s beloved Jambo Cafe, a City Different institution for more than a decade. Helmed by Chef Ahmed Obo, Jambo serves African-Caribbean fusion food. In the Triple D Nation episode, Chef Obo reprised two of the foods with which Fieri fell in love during his initial visit: oxtail and stew. Shortly after the Triple D Nation episode aired, Chef Obo announced the purchase of the 1.7-acre Bobcat Bite property on Old Las Vegas Highway. He plans to open Jambo Bobcat Bite sometime in March.
SANTA FE SOUPER BOWL A FUNDRAISING SUCCESS: After a three year hiatus, the Souper Bowl returned to Santa Fe on Saturday, January 28th. An annual fundraiser for The Food Depot, the Souper Bowl invites area chefs to present their best culinary soup creations for attendees to sample as they compete for votes in four categories: Cream, Savory, Seafood and Vegetarian — plus the coveted “Best Soup” category. Nineteen restaurants from across the capital city brought their best bisques, chowders and stews to see who cooked up the best one, while raising $84,000 for The Food Depot. According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, “The Santa Fe-based food bank provides an average of 700,000 meals a month to those in need across nine counties in Northern New Mexico. An estimated 1,300 soup savants turned out to the event, helping The Food Depot raise over $84,000 in ticket sales and sponsorships, which will fund over 85,000 meals.” Best Overall Soup honors went to Dr. Field Goods Kitchen, for chef Josh Gerwin’s creamy truffled cauliflower soup. CHOMP! took home honors for best savory soup with a Thai-Cambodian fusion chicken tom yum soup. The award for best seafood went to El Nido, with a green coconut seafood curry. Red Sage at Buffalo Thunder won the vegetarian category with a gramitas de calabacitas.
A BUDDY IN THE BUSINESS IN ESPANOLA: “You’ve got a buddy in the business” has become a familiar catchphrase for those of us who don’t fast-forward through commercials. Those now immortal words are uttered by Buddy Espinoza, general manager of Toyota of Santa Fe and Enchanted Mazda, also in Santa Fe. Should you visit Dandy Burger in Española, you might just hear those words from behind the counter. That’s because Buddy Espinoza has purchased the fifty year old restaurant whose menu includes burgers, tacos and burritos.
BEST VEGAN RESTAURANTS IN EVERY STATE: Columnist Doug Larson believes “Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon.” Though the flavor of bacon is inimitable, veganism is on the rise. That means there are around 6.6 million people across the United States that identify as vegans and can’t eat bacon. Still, it’s hard to feel sorry for vegans because the dining options available to them are quite good. Tasting Table compiled a list of the “Best Vegan Restaurant in Every State,’ a list that includes Albuquerque’s delectable Thai Vegan. Tasting Table captured the essence of Thai Vegan: “Thai food has an incredible depth of flavor, with aromatic notes of lemongrass and cilantro balanced with citrusy lime, salty soy sauce, sweet palm sugar, and creamy coconut milk. However, the cuisine also traditionally includes different types of fish sauce, which renders the food not vegetarian or vegan-friendly. Fortunately, Thai Vegan has come to the rescue: Its tom yum soup, pad thai, and much more are all 100% plant-based. You can add extra tofu, soy chicken, pepper steak, or soy fish to any main you like.”
CHEF DENNIS APODACA INTRODUCES NEW PODCAST: For a man who didn’t buy a computer until turning 61 and who never even had a Facebook page or website for his nonetheless very successful restaurants, Chef Dennis Apodaca is starting to embrace technology. Dennis recently launched a podcast called “Runny Yolk” (which you can find on your reliable Podcast engine). His third guest was your favorite restaurant review blogger. In a revealing conversation, Dennis shared a very deep and profound poem called “It’s All Gravy” that belies the devil-may-care image he conveys. He shared it with me in tribute of the unthanked people who give of themselves to bring recognition to others. Thank you, Dennis.
FOUR NEW MEXICO RESTAURANTS ON TOP 20 LIST: How many of New Mexico’s enchanted restaurants would you expect to find on a compilation of the “Top 20 Restaurants in America“? One. Maybe two. Would you believe four–including the number one restaurant in the country? There is, of course, no official listing of America’s very best restaurants. But, we do have opinions. Lots of them–including those of Ken Hulsey of the blog A Traveler’s Guide to the Galaxy. The four restaurants from across the Land of Enchantment to make it onto Ken’s Top 20 list are Eloy’s New Mexican Restaurant (which somehow I haven’t reviewed) at #20, Garduño’s of Mexico at #14, Blake’s Lotaburger at #8 and the top restaurant in America, Monroe’s Restaurant.
NEW MEXICO’S BEST BARBECUE NAMED: Multi-time Tony Award winning chef and television personality Tony Bourdain believed “Barbecue may not be the road to world peace, but it’s a start.” Very few restaurants serve green chile cheeseburgers and barbecue, much less award-winning and nationally acclaimed burgers and barbecue. Count Sparky’s of Hatch, New Mexico one of the few. In its “50 States of Barbecue” feature, the Food Network named Sparky’s as New Mexico’s best. Here’s what The Food Network had to say: “Find great smoked meat at this kitschy burger joint filled to the brim with vintage memorabilia and knickknacks — including an awesome moose head capped with a hat fit for a park ranger. The place is best known for its excellent chile cheeseburger, but it also offers a unique, New Mexican take on smoked meat. The best way to sample the goods is with the Oinker, the infamous Hatch green chile cheeseburger topped with a healthy serving of smoked pulled pork. Purists may prefer to stick with simpler barbecue plates featuring slow-cooked meats like sliced brisket, sausage and spare ribs.” Thank you, Bruce Terzes
4 thoughts on “Red or Green–New Mexico’s Food Scene Is on Fire: March, 2023”
Gil – Thank you for mentioning my article about my Top 20 Favorite Restaurants. As you say, it’s all about opinion, and in this case my love for New Mexican cuisine really showed. I’m sure there may be better places to each in the Albuquerque area but I took a trip down memory lane from when I lived there in the 80s. Monroe’s was always my favorite place to eat there and everything I ever tried was amazing. I eat there every time I pass through.
I understand that Blake’s isn’t what it used to be, which is a shame. People tell me that some of the locations are still making great food while the quality of others is unfortunately sub par.
I have to tip my hat to you, this is the most amazing website about New Mexican food that I have ever seen. Keep up the amazing work! You have a new fan in me.
Thank you, Ken. Knowing the time and effort you put into your blog and the quality of your writing, I’m honored that you enjoy my blog.
Gil and Sr. Plancha at favorite resturant
Thank you, Diego. Did you use ChatGPD to generate such a clever meme? It seems far beyond your capabilities.