ABSOLUTELY ALBUQUERQUE: Local rocker Amanda Machon is so effusive about Albuquerque that she makes Mayor Keller seem almost apathetic in comparison. If the Duke City ever appointed an official ambassador, she would be my choice. Amanda is the exuberant hostess of Absolutely Albuquerque, which streams on the Very Local channel. Her Absolutely Albuquerque series focuses on all about discovering everything that makes Albuquerque unique and exciting. The Duke City’s culinary culture is, of course, integral to making Albuquerque unique and exciting. In the program’s inaugural episode, Amanda visited Rude Boy Cookies where she learned just a bit about the art of creating fabulous cookies from Albuquerque’s premier fabricant de biscuits Kristin Dowling. In future episodes she’ll be visiting with such stalwart culinary artists as Marie Yniguez at My Moms and the chile makers at The Dog House. With a smile as broad, beautiful and bright as an Albuquerque summer morning, Amanda will make you as enthusiastic about Albuquerque as she is. Absolutely!
OUTRAGEOUS HOTDOG IN ALBUQUERQUE: In 2023 Yelp compiled a list of America’s most outrageous hotdogs. On that list was a dog called the Tattooed Lady from Clowndog. Here’s what Yelp had to say about the Tattooed Lady: “Froot Loops are not something you’d expect on a hot dog. But at this circus-themed spot, they’re one of the many eye-popping surprises found on the Tattooed Lady—maybe the most unique item you’ll ever have. Your choice of frank is topped with chopped bacon, flame-roasted jalapeno salsa, and—believe it or not—Froot Loops, grape jelly, and mustard.” Not only is this hotdog outrageous, Yelp claims “What amazes people who order this whimsical combination, is that it’s actually delicious.“
CULINARY TOURISM IN NEW MEXICO: The concept of culinary tourism–traveling beyond your immediate neighborhood to find great food–is something I’ve long tried to promote on Gil’s Thrilling… Intrepid travelers don’t have to travel beyond the Land of Enchantment’s sacred borders to visit a culinary “trail” that’s among the “8 best foodie trails in the U.S.” So says The Points Guy, an online presence created by travelers for travelers. The Points Guy says New Mexico’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail will help you: “Spice up your cheeseburger game with a massive, 52-stop green chile patty party. The New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail is as gluttonous as it is long. With 52 stops, you could technically hit one spot each week over the course of a year, or you can take a more strategic trip — from around two to three regions — to get the job done.”
NEW MEXICO’S BEST CULT FAVORITE RESTAURANT: LoveFood.com, an online media presence covering recipes, reviews, chefs and restaurants compiled a list of the best cult-favorite restaurant in each state–restaurants “that due to awards and accolades or word of mouth – that you simply shouldn’t miss out on visiting. The Land of Enchantment was well represented by El Paisa with a “cheap eats” menu that belies the deliciousness and quality of great Mexican food. Here’s what LoveFood had to say: “Decidedly no-frills, this hole-in-the-wall taco joint has earned a devout following thanks to its amazingly cheap, amazingly delicious tacos, burritos, gorditas, and the weekend special of menudo (tripe soup).”
WHO REALLY INVENTED THE FRITO PIE?: Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain didn’t endear himself to New Mexicans during his 2013 visit to Santa Fe’s Five & Dime. The controversial chef not only called the diner’s sacrosanct Frito pie “like you’re holding a warm crap in a bag” and a “colostomy pie,” he denounced it was “as deadly as the Manhattan Project.” After a barrage of insults, he did make one semi-conciliatory comment: “Neither the Frito nor the Frito pie are indigenous to New Mexico. They’re actually from Texas. New Mexico has many wonderful things. Let Texas have this one.” For years the origin of the Frito pie has been hotly debated. It does turn out that Bourdain was absolutely correct in attributing its origin to Texas. Austin station KXAN (where locals wake up with my all-time favorite meteorologist Kristen Currie) explains in a recent article which rehashes the pretty well established history of the Frito pie.
TWELVE BEST RESTAURANTS IN SANTA FE: When I first discovered an article purporting to list the 12 Best Restaurants in Santa Fe For Unforgettable Meals by world traveler and life coach Molly Beauchemin of Grace & Lightness Magazine, I pondered the irony of a site titled “Grace & Lightness” featuring Santa Fe’s restaurants–not all of which are known for “light” foods. The intriguing feature noted that “This emerging desert food oasis exists at the intersection of Spanish, Native American, and contemporary New Mexican culinary traditions, as well as the growing farm-to-table movement that would seem somewhat paradoxical in the high desert of the American Southwest. That’s why Santa Fe is known as “The City Different”: for its unique ability to showcase different facets of local tradition.” Among the restaurants listed are: El Farol, Geronimo, San Marcos Cafe and nine other sterling exemplars of outstanding cuisine.
There’s absolutely no doubt the “ultimate” vacation in Santa Fe must include visiting some of the City Different’s best restaurants, especially those which showcase New Mexico’s sacrosanct red and green chile. Writing for the Huffington Post, Caroline Bologna “took full advantage of the food scene, trying as many dishes as I could with green chile sauce, red chile sauce and even the compromise “Christmas style” with both options.” Caroline noted that “some of the best food I tried in Santa Fe was no doubt from El Chile Toreado. A James Beard Award semi-finalist, this humble food truck had possibly the best breakfast tacos and burritos I’ve ever tried.”
LEGENDARY ALBUQUERQUE RESTAURATEUR PASSES AWAY: Larger-than-life restaurateur Larry Gonzales, the longtime (1983-2021) chef and general manager of Papa Felipe’s in Albuquerque passed away on Friday, 28 July 2023. Larry was renowned almost as much for his sense of humor and customer orientation as he was for the New Mexican cuisine he prepared for nearly four decades. Among his culinary specialties–delightful dishes you won’t find anywhere else in Albuquerque–are green chile tamale pie and chilaquiles casserole. Whether innovating or preparing traditional New Mexican food, Larry did it all well. The 19 April 2023 edition of Albuquerque Business First reported that Papa Felipe’s is up for sale. For many Albuquerque diners, Papa Felipe’s hasn’t been the same since Larry’s retirement in 2021. His outgoing nature and personality will always permeate the restaurant he loved and who which hegave so much of his life.
REVERED RIO RANCHO RESTAURANT RETURNING SOON: Visionaries (my term for resident of the City of Vision) haven’t had much to celebrate. Not only did beloved restaurateurs Joe and Kassie Guzzardi retire, in February we lost the wonderful Dagmar Gertrude Ingeborg Schulze Marshall Mondragon of Dagmar’s Delectables. My friend Sarita happily shared a bit of much-needed great news. Dagmar’s Facebook page reports “The outpouring of love for Dagmar, our family and the restaurant has been nothing short of stunning. The community that has been built through and around Dagmar and the bakery is vast and loyal and loving and simply amazing! After several days of stress, tears and prayers, Mama Oma and I are truly THRILLED to report that Michael Almanzar, a long-time friend of Dagmar’s who is affectionately known as “Dagmar’s brother from another mother” is the new owner/operator of Dagmar’s. We are so happy to be “keeping it in the family.” More details on the reopening of Rio Rancho’s favorite bakery will be shared on Facebook.
NEW MEXICO MAGAZINE CELEBRATES 100 YEAR ANNIVERSARY: In what is destined to be a collector’s edition, New Mexico Magazine published its 100th Anniversary Issue in July. The Magazine celebrated some of the many reasons to love New Mexico. Among those reasons is because our cuisine nourishes the soul. James Beard Best Chef: Southwest finalist Justin Pioche wrote about his passion for passing on his knowledge about Native foldaways to the state’s youth. He emphasized that if that culinary culture isn’t passed on, it could signal the end of one of the things that makes New Mexico and the Southwest special. Chef Pioche also listed his favorite Native restaurants. They include Farmington’s Juniper Coffee & Eatery and the Indian Pueblo Kitchen.
NEW MEXICO’S BEST DESSERT: The late (and much missed) humorist Erma Bombeck once quipped “Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the ‘Titanic’ who waved off the dessert cart.” If there’s any consolation, it’s that they didn’t have much time to kick themselves for having passed up dessert. The Food Network recently compiled a list of “50 Over-The-Top Treats from Across the U.S., essentially one dessert from every state that you should never pass up. New Mexico’s most over-the-top treat comes from Santa Fe’s Churro Bar. Fittingly that dessert is a churro cake. According to the Food Network: “These churros were a food-truck favorite, so the owners made them into a cake and opened Churro Bar in Santa Fe.”
I SCREAM FOR ICE CREAM TO BEAT THE HEAT: Sunday, July 16th was National Ice Cream Day, an unpaid holiday designated by President Ronald Reagan. Unfortunately with temperatures hovering in the one-hundred degree range, many of us didn’t want to contend with energy-sapping heat. Otherwise, the place to be would have been I Scream Ice Cream, an Albuquerque treasure recently chosen recently by Yelp as one of the very best ice cream shops in the whole USA. On its list of the top 100 ice cream shops across the fruited plain, I Scream Ice Cream was ranked number three. Here’s what Yelp had to say: “Take a walk down memory lane at the “coolest retro ice cream place,” which serves up 35 flavors with a huge dollop of nostalgia. Owner Bill Warren sources what he calls “the best of the best” hard-packed ice cream from “all over the country” for visitors to the memorabilia-filled parlor, which opened in 2005. But the real stars of this destination sweet shop are the floor-to-ceiling vintage toys, posters, record albums, board games, funny hats, and so much more.”
KRQE HONORS NEW MEXICO’S BEST PIZZA: Based on Google reviews, KRQE News 13 compiled a list of some New Mexico best pizza spots – all of which have at least 4.5 stars and 1,000 reviews on Google. Not surprisingly the list was dominated by Duke City area pizzerias and Italian restaurants. Farina Pizzeria & Wine Bar topped the list. From among those meeting the Google criteria, the only pizza on the list that wasn’t from the Duke City area came from Edgewood’s Pizza Barn and Ruidoso’s Cafe Rio. Surprisingly Santa Fe wasn’t represented–perhaps because no City Different pizzeria had 1,000 reviews. Viewer recommendations that didn’t achieve that 1,000 review benchmark came from Mimbres, Crownpoint, Farmington, Alamogordo and other smaller towns and villages across the Land of Enchantment…and yes, Santa Fe was well represented on that list.
AND ITS BEST TACOS, TOO: KRQE was busy analyzing Google reviews, compiling a list of some New Mexico taco spots – all of which have at least 4.5 stars and 500 reviews on Google. Four restaurants achieved a 4.7 star average: Guelaguetza, La Reforma and Barbacoa El Primo in Albuquerque as well as 2023 James Beard Award-nominated El Chile Toreado in Santa Fe. Numerous other purveyors of tantalizing tacos didn’t achieve the requisite 1,000 reviews but scored very well. Towns and villages whose tacos earned that distinction include Springer, Belen and Española among other smaller population centers.
RAIDING THE COOKIE JAR: Rude Boy Cookies, Albuquerque’s preeminent cookie shop made USA Today’s list of the “best cookies in America.” In a feature titled “10 must-try cookie shops across the United States,” USA Today rated Rude Boy Cookies the seventh best in the fruited plain, declaring: “The cookies at Rude Boy Cookies are so good that they’ve earned a cult following in Albuquerque, New Mexico. All the usual suspects are here, from chocolate chip to red velvet, peanut butter and sugar. Just make sure to also keep the shop’s award-winning biscochitos (New Mexico’s state cookie) on your radar.
NEW MEXICO RESTAURANT AMONG AMERICA’S BEST: Acknowledging that “mom-and-pop shops are the heartbeat of our communities,” Yelp launched its inaugural list of America’s favorite mom and pop shops. The list–which included everything from “beloved family-run restaurants and quaint Main Street bookstores to reliable neighborhood plumbers and trusted hair stylists“–included familiar Land of Enchantment landmarks. Among New Mexico institutions on the Yelp list are Tucumcari’s Blue Swallow Motel, a historic treasure. The only restaurant on the list was Geronimo, considered by many to be Santa Fe’s best restaurant (though mom-and-pop is not a term usually ascribed to it).
SANTA FE’S BEST RESTAURANTS: The Manual, a digital lifestyle online presence which purports to “show everyone how to live a more engaged life” whether it be fashion, culture, food, drinks, travel, grooming, or the outdoors recently published a guide to Santa Fe’s best restaurants. Among the restaurants making the list were Tomasita’s, Geronimo, Paloma, Ahmyo Wine Garden and others. The astute writer, a Portland resident, noted that “As you might expect, the food is informed by classic Mexican cuisine but is also very much its own thing. Thank goodness another out-of-towner didn’t describe the Land of Enchantment’s uniquely diverse and wonderful cuisine as “Tex Mex.”
JAMES BEARD “BEST CHEF -SOUTHWEST” FINALIST PROFILED: Justin Pioche, the only chef from New Mexico selected as finalist for the coveted James Beard Foundation “Best Chef – Southwest” award was recently profiled in a wonderful article by Searchlight New Mexico, an investigative journalism presence. The article revealed that “Rather than establishing a restaurant, he’s opted to experiment with an alternative business model, staging pop-up gourmet dinners, catering private events and bringing his food truck to regional festivals.” It’s a model that allows him to interface on a personal level with guests fortunate enough to enjoy his artful creations.
KRQE HONORS NEW MEXICO GREEN CHILE CHEESEBURGERS: Albuquerque’s CBS affiliate KRQE Channel 13 recently compiled a list of some New Mexico spots that offer green chile cheeseburgers – all of which have at least 4.5 stars and 500 reviews on Google. The list shows just how ubiquitous our sacrosanct state burger has become. Scour the list and you’re bound to find several green chile cheeseburgers you didn’t know existed. In some cases, you might not even recognize the towns and villages in which they’re served. Isn’t it time for the New Mexico Tourism Department to update its New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail. The trail hasn’t been updated since 2011.
SO DOES THE ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL: Albuquerque Journal reporter Ryan Boetel has an assignment any one of us who isn’t camera shy would envy. Ryan has been taking his own green chile cheeseburger tour and posting video reviews on the Journal. To this point he’s visited several of Albuquerque’s very best purveyors of the Land of Enchantment’s favorite burger. To this point he’s visited the Monte Carlo Steakhouse, Rex’s Hamburgers and the Oak Tree Cafe. Ryan orders the burger however the restaurant normally serves it up with no additions or subtractions. He eats the burger outside the place while the restaurant is still fresh and scores them on a 1-10 scale.
WOULD YOU BELIEVE A GREEN CHILE AND LIME FLAVORED SODA: The Jones Soda Company which prides itself on listening to consumers regarding flavors, colors and labels, must have been listening to consumers from the Land of Enchantment. The craft soda company now has a Hatch green chile and lime-flavored soda available for purchase online. Walmart and Smith’s are expected to offer the special release later this summer. A twelve pack will cost you $44.99, but that includes free ground shipping. Jones Soda Company urges consumers to “Get ready for some mild summer heat! Hatch chile and lime soda is here. Combining the bold flavors of smoky Hatch chiles with a refreshing zing of lime. Pairs perfectly with spicy food on a hot evening.” The soda does, however, come with a warning: “Drinking this soda may cause spontaneous salsa dancing and a sudden craving for tacos.”
NEW MEXICO’S BEST CHICKEN SANDWICH: Black Enterprise, the country’s number one digital media enterprise, took a delicious dive into chicken sandwiches throughout the US. Its article was prefaced with “Not all chicken sandwiches are made equally, and connoisseurs will tell you that certain restaurants have tastier and better options than others. If you have been searching for the best places to have chicken sandwiches that will blow your mind and tickle your taste buds, you have come to the right place.” Scouring the list, you won’t find any state expressing a preference for Popeye’s or Chick-fil-A. Instead, the list names fifty mom-and-pop restaurants who have perfected poultry between buns. New Mexico’s best is Kamikaze Kitchen. Here’s what the article has to say: Kamikaze Kitchen in Albuquerque prides itself on delivering unexpected flavor combinations, and the restaurant has been adored by patrons since it opened its doors. They are known for fusing Asian-inspired ingredients with Southern Tex-Mex cooking. Quite a unique blend, if you ask us. The Mother Klucker serves up a belly-busting chicken sandwich that comes on black sesame seed brioche bread. It features fried chicken breast, orange house sauce, Asian slaw, and sriracha mayo. The distinct tastes and evenly distributed heat levels are a big hit.”
NEW MEXICO’S BEST SNACK: “Sweet or salty? Yes, please. There’s no shortage of these marvelous munchies, from dips oozing with cheesy goodness to sandwiches and burgers that deliciously flood our tastebuds. Everyone has their favorite snack—but which delightful bites are considered the best snacks around?.” That’s how Reader’s Digest began its compilation of “The Best Snack in Every State.” It’s hard to argue with the choice for New Mexico: our official state cookie, the biscochito. Here’s what Reader’s Digest had to say: “Stacks of these fragrant shortbread cookies are holiday favorites, but they pair perfectly with a warm beverage any time of year. The lard in the recipe gives them a flaky texture, while notes of anise and cinnamon (plus a nip of rum or brandy) constitute their signature flavor.”
DINING WITH A VIEW: Henry Ward Beecher observed “It’s easier to go down a hill than up but the view is much better at the top.” He didn’t specifically have the view from the top of Sandia Peak in mind, but his sage aphorism certainly applies. Travel Awaits named Ten 3, the stunning fine-dining at the 10,300 level of Sandia Peak “One of 12 Restaurants With Amazing Views.” Other restaurants on the list include restaurants in Mexico, Thailand, Paris, Alaska and Sedona (Arizona).
GET TO KNOW NEW MEXICO’S MOST ICONIC RESTAURANTS: Lynn Cline describes the 25 classic New Mexico restaurant institutions featured in the May issue of New Mexico Magazine as “not just eateries–they’re living, breathing, cultural institutions.” She rhapsodizes further: “from roadside diners to downtown drive-ins, ancestral haciendas to mom-and-pop cafés, New Mexico’s iconic restaurants tell tales. For generations, these hot spots have welcomed us like family, overflowed our plates with hospitality, and stirred our souls with cherished recipes cooked from the heart. The 25 restaurants showcased by Lynn include venerable landmarks such as Bibo Bar & Grill, Duran Central Pharmacy, El Farolito and 22 other great institutions on-and-off the well beaten, well eaten path.
RIO RANCHO RESTAURANT HONORED: Rotary District 5520, which includes the entire state of New Mexico and part of Texas, selects one small (1-10 employees), medium (11-50 employees) and large business (more than 50 employees) as an outstanding company for ethics and community service. To be nominated for the award, the business must demonstrate excellence in employee relations, quality of product and/or representation and community involvement of both management and employees. James and Megan Garrigan, owners of Lily & Liam Bistro and Upscale Burgers & Shakes, recently earned the Sonny Brown award in the medium business category. In addition to employing a workforce that includes several individuals with disabilities, the Garrigans work closely with several nonprofit groups. They were also cited for preparing chef-inspired dishes designed to be mindful of food waste and other low impact to the environment approaches.
El QUESO MEJOR: The New York Times advices “For a Chile Con Queso Like No Other, Head to Southern New Mexico.” More specifically, the progenitor of “All The News That’s Fit To Print” recommends you visit Chope’s Town Bar & Cafe in La Mesa. Chope’s closely guards its queso queso recipe other than divulging it comprises thin, roasted Hatch green chile salsa topped with melted cheese. It’s an unconventional con queso, the antithesis of the melted glop some restaurants try to pass off as con queso. It’s more akin to a green chile stew, with or without meat, topped with a melting white cheese…and it is absolutely fabulous. Instead of chips, the con queso is accompanied by four flour tortillas, each about five-inches in diameter and about an eighth of an inch thick, not the paper-thin abomination inferior restaurants serve. Use the tortillas to scoop up the con queso and you’ll be amazed at the magnificent marriage of green chile and cheese.
FRITO PIE QUEEN PASSES AWAY: Lorraine Chavez, a mainstay at Santa Fe’s Five & Dime General Store for 25 years, passed away at age 58 on May 27th. Fondly regarded as the “Frito Pie Queen,” Lorraine may not have invented the Frito pie, but she certainly perfected it. While filming “Parts Unknown” for CNN, celebrity glitterati Anthony Bourdain rankled the feathers of proud New Mexicans who have loved the Five & Dime’s Frito pies for generations. Bourdain claimed the dish was made with canned Hormel chili and a “DayGlo orange cheese-like substance. Lorraine came to the chile’s defense, explaining that she cooks up the chile con carne from scratch every morning. Lorraine met dozens of people every day, greeting them with her perpetual smile and welcoming them like guests at her home. She’ll be missed.
SPARKY’S SHOWCASED ON PBS PROGRAM: La Frontera, the US-Mexico border spanning 1,989 miles, from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, is the most frequently crossed border in the world. The border zones are among the fastest-growing regions in both countries, with over $1 billion in trans-border trade transacted daily. Over the past two seasons, PBS has showcased the diversity of La Frontera–its people, communities and ecosystems. James Beard award-winning host Pati Jinich has introduced viewers to some of the mot unique and bio-diverse regions in the world, traveling from Sonora and Arizona to New Mexico and Chihuahua. During a recent episode, Pati traveled to Hatch to understand how a city in the US could possibly call itself the “chile capital of the world.” While in Hatch, she stopped off at Sparky’s where she enjoyed a green chile sundae. Pati’s guide in Hatch was Andrea Alvarez of La Reina Chile Company who welcomed her and introduced her to some of the farmers in Hatch who are keeping New Mexico’s sacrosanct chile tradition alive
NEW MEXICO’S OTHER CASH CROP: Scant days after Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed an official state aroma (green chile being roasted) into law, State and Federal agriculture officials announced the Land of Enchantment’s chile production numbers for 2022. New Mexico produced more than 53,000 tons of its sacrosanct red and green crop during the last growing season with an estimated value of more than $46 million, about $1 million more than in 2021. While production was up, the acreage used to grow chile was actually less than in 2021. The New Mexico Chile Association credits the higher yields to irrigation and cultivation improvements. About sixty percent of 2022’s production came from counties other than Sierra, Doña Ana, and Luna counties. That means there’s a lot of chile being grown outside of Doña Ana County, home to Hatch, the “Chile Capital of the World.”
BRING FIDO: Every once in a while we espy a vehicle sporting a decal declaring “My dog behaves better than your kid.” It’s a sentiment with which we wholeheartedly agree, but then our debonair dachshund The Dude behaves better than most adults, too. It’s been our privilege and joy to be accompanied for many of our restaurant visits (mostly al fresco) by The Dude. Invariably he’s either so well behaved that restaurant staff doesn’t even know he’s there or they’re oohing and aahing at what a great looking little guy he is. It certainly makes us wish more restaurants across the Land of Enchantment made it onto Yelp’s Top 100 Dog Friendly Restaurants across the fruited plain. Some of The Dude’s favorites did make the list: Andele’s Dog House in Mesilla, Tia B’s La Waffleria in Albuquerque and The Tune-Up Cafe in Santa Fe.
SURVIVING THE SUPERMARKET: Considering how much men whine and complain when our spouses ask us to go pick up some groceries, you’d think we were giving birth without anesthesia while simultaneously passing a kidney stone. Grocery shopping (especially with our wives) ranks up there with watching The View as the most torturous activities men can perform. Don’t feel sorry for Albuquerque Chef Mike White who not only survived a visit to the supermarket, he did so on television. Chef White, the New Mexico Restaurant Association Chef of the Year for 2018 and an uber-talented chef and restaurant impresario who helms The Point Grill showcased his talents on the Food Network program Supermarket Stakeout. Chef White beat out four other chefs in the competition, in doing so winning a year’s worth of groceries.
INTRODUCING ALBUQUERQUE’S NEW SERIOUS FOODIE COMEDY TEAM: Over the past quarter-century there’s no one with whom I’ve shared more meals and more laughs than my dear friend Bill Resnik, a former stand-up comic and long-time colleague. Bill and I created and delivered countless barely-safe-for-work roasts at Intel, insulting everyone from admins to executive vice presidents. On Saturday (and this is no April Fool’s joke), Bill and I were invited on The Weekend with Terry Travis where the show’s topic was “Foodie Saturday.” Hosted by Jerry Miller, the show’s producer and former owner of the Great American Steakhouse in Albuquerque, the show may have uncovered Albuquerque’s new serious foodie comedy team. I caught a cold and was barely coherent, but the comedic stylings of Bill and Jerry made my absence negligible. They discussed weighty foodie topics, delivering a healthy dose of comedy throughout. Also appearing on Foodie Saturday was the wonderful Antoinette Knight, owner of Mary & Tito’s. You can listen to the entire recording here.
NEW MEXICO RESTAURANTS MAKE YELP’S TOP 100 PLACES TO EAT: Yelp released its list of Top 100 Places to Eat in the Southwest (Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah) for 2023. With 32 restaurants on the list, Arizona led the quadrumvirate of states. The Land of Enchantment had ten representatives from six cities on the list: Oasis Mediterranean restaurant was the only restaurant on the list from Gallup, but it ranked ranked 6th overall. Representing Santa Fe were Ras Rody’s Jamaican Vegan which ranked 20th, Santarepa Cafe which ranked 25th, James Beard Best Chef-Southwest Semifinalist El Chile Toreado which ranked 75th and Mac Santa Fe which ranked 92nd. Albuquerque restaurants on the list were Barbacoa El Primo at #87, La Finca Bowls at #88 and Guava Tree Cafe at #98. Cloudcroft’s Mad Jack’s Mountaintop Barbecue made the list at #29. Watson’s BBQ from Tucumcari made the list at #34 as did InfiniteBBQ from Farmington at #79.
RESTAURANT IMPOSSIBLE IN BELEN: “Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to give Greg’s BBQ a makeover.” Robert Irvine, host of Food Network’s Restaurant Impossible may not have been given those precise instructions, but he did visit Belen in July, 2022 to refurbish Greg’s BBQ. In the process, Irvine helped Greg, an ex-Marine, deal with stress which has been affecting both his health and his restaurant. The drama is compounded by Greg’s relationship with his son whom he micromanages in day-to-day operations. Ensconced within an old building which also houses Carlos’ Liquor Store, Greg’s won’t have long to enjoy the make-over. June 4th will be Greg’s last day at its present location with plans to reopen by the middle of June.
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 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