When a restaurant with the curious name “Foodtopia” surfaced in 2022, long-suffering readers of Gil’s Thrilling… probably realized an etymology lesson would soon be in order. If the suffix “topia” intrigued you as much as it did your grandiloquent blogger, hang on. First, a review of what we all know. Utopia is “a seemingly perfect society, one without flaws, where everyone is content and conflict and strife are unknown.” One example of a Utopian society is the movie Zootopia in which animals live in harmony and lions sing kumbaya with antelope. More common than movies about Utopian societies are movies and literature about dystopia, “societies that are either extremely chaotic or extremely authoritative, a hellish place where most people suffer.” No, it’s not your place of employment, but rather something like Planet of the Apes or George Orwell’s 1984.
The common element in these two opposite societal types is the suffix “topia,” a Greek word meaning “a place with specified characteristics.” An imaginary society with both good (Utopian) and bad (Dystopian) features might be called a “mixtopia.” Some posit an imaginary place where everything (especially the government) is as bad as it can be. Fittingly, the term for this increasingly real place is “cacatopia.” The polar opposite of a cacatopia would probably be a “polytopia,” a place without jealousy or possessiveness. It’s a concept by which hippie communes in the 1960s tried to live–where everyone could be who they wanted to be. Now, some of you will be consulting your dictionaries (especially for cacatopia). First let me tell you about Foodtopia, an Albuquerque place serving Mexican cuisine.
On Foodtopia’s Yelp page, one reviewer lamented “the name does not scream “authentic Mexican food.” Another posted “With a name like “Foodtopia” I went in expecting a wide selection of cuisines, or something more special than generic Mexican/American diner fare.” Yeah, the name “Foodtopia” may be a bit on the confusing side. Thankfully it’s not an imaginary place. Foodtopia is (to paraphrase yet another quote from Seinfeld) “real and it’s spectacular.” Okay, maybe not spectacular, but it’s very colorful and it’s immaculate. Moreover, the Zacatecas style Mexican cuisine is quite good even though Foodtopia’s Facebook page lists “burgers” as an example of its Mexican food.
Foodtopia has a Pan American Freeway address, but it doesn’t really have an ideal storefront presence. In fact, it’s somewhat hidden behind Tomasita‘s and M’Tucci’s Twenty-Five and faces the Century Rio 24 multiplex. Some of you might remember Foodtopia’s location as once having been the home of Gigi Italian Bistro, a restaurant which initially showed a lot of promise only to fall out of favor with diners. This location has actually been home to several restaurants, none of which had staying power. Perhaps the proven real estate rule “right restaurant at the wrong location” may be fitting here. In any case, here’s hoping Foodtopia not only survives, but thrives.
We were greeted warmly by a very friendly server equally conversant in English as she is in Spanish. For most of the duration of our meal, we were the only diners in the space. Our server shared that a bustling dinner crowd–especially on weekends–keeps Foodtopia jumping. Even without other diners, it wasn’t all quietude and crickets. Well-positioned flat screen televisions were tuned to Mexican cinema masterpieces featuring El Santo, one of the greatest masked luchadores of all time. One thing we missed is watching as dishes were ferried to diners’ tables. You’d be surprised how often dining choices are influenced by seeing dishes delivered to another table.
Insofar as Zacatecas style Mexican style cuisine, traditional dishes from that region are listed on the menu, but for the most part the menu will be familiar. Perhaps resultant from the influence of American food culture, the menu also includes corn dogs, chicken nuggets, burgers (including a green chile cheeseburger), eggs and pancakes. Tacos, perhaps the most popular of all imports from the Land of Montezuma, feature prominently on the menu. Served on crispy or soft tortillas, the tacos are constructed with chicken, carne asada, birria, carne adovada, barbacoa, al pastor or shrimp. They’re available a la carte or as part of a plate that includes beans and rice. Other items include such popular dishes as enchiladas, fajitas, quesadillas and much more.
Atlas Obscura describes Mexican horchata as “the agua fresca that dreams are made of.” It’s been a while since dreams of horchata invaded my sleep, but that’s only because over the years we’ve ordered it so often that it’s no longer a novelty. We know what to expect. That doesn’t mean horchata is “getting old.” There’s no way it can do that. Sweet (like the milk on a child’s breakfast cereal) and slightly creamy, horchata is vaguely reminiscent of a rice pudding with a more delicate texture. Few things in life are as refreshing than a cold goblet of horchata. Alas, some restaurants take a shortcut and use a powdered mix instead of the more laborious–and infinitely more delicious–process of soaking white rice in water and cinnamon for several hours, straining, and adding sugar. Foodtopia’s version is of the latter variety. Quality tells. It’s absolutely delicious. During our second visit (13 July 2023) to Foodtopia, we espied several changes to the menu. Among them was a new “aqua fresca” called Dr. Chata. Quite simply it’s half Dr. Peppe and half horchata. It’s reminiscent of an ice cream float. My Kim immediately declared it her favorite aqua fresca.
19 April 2023: During the timeless Christmas Classic Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, when crooner Burl Ives sings “Silver and Gold” my mind somehow translates that to “Salsa and Chips.” Talk about an ear worm. Talk about food obsessed. Even though there are several appetizers and “munchies” on the Foodtopia menu, you owe it to yourself to have the salsa and chips. The salsa is about as piquant as ketchup, but it’s fresh and delicious. Texturally, it borders on pureed which means some salsa may run off your chip. Remember, salsa is silver so you want to minimize waste. Fittingly the chips are gold, both in color and in deliciousness. The chips are crisp, low salted and triangular for optimum scooping capabilities.
19 April 2023: Not that very long ago, Mexican restaurants and taquerias were frequented primarily for their carne asada and carnitas tacos. With the continued exposure social media has given the diverse potential of Mexican tacos, more and more people are exploring other taco fillings. Two beneficiaries have been al pastor and birria. Al pastor (literally “in the shepherd’s style”) is pork marinated in achiote and other spices and small pineapple chunks. Foodtopia serves them with onions and cilantro in a soft corn tortilla. The pork is terrific, some pieces bordering on crackling. There’s just enough pineapple to provide a contrast in flavors, but not so much that you’ve got a meat dessert.
19 April 2023: Somehow al pastor tacos have not received the level of nationwide attention and adulation that birria tacos have. Call it fervor if you will, but birria tacos may be Mexico’s version of The Beatles, an export that makes diners swoon. Foodtopia’s menu describes birria as “shredded Angus beef cooked in our Foodtopia red chili sauce.” Traditionally birria was made with goat or lamb, but increasingly (especially in America) it’s made with beef. It should have the consistency of stewed beef. Not so at Foodtopia where it could well be that the moistness usually found on birria is intended to be gleaned from the accompanying consomme. Dipping the tacos into the consomme does indeed provide that moistness, but our preference would have been for birria not quite so dependent on the consomme. Still, this is a good taco.
19 April 2023: Similar to the birria, the barbacoa within my barbacoa burrito was somewhat lacking in the characteristic moistness of barbacoa, a slow-cooked beef, lamb or other meat prepared in seasonings and typically shredded as a filling in tacos and burritos. Though still tender, the Angus beef was a bit on the dry side. Fortunately other ingredients–guacamole, pico de gallo, rice and cheese inside a 12-inch flour tortilla–provide the moistness absent in the barbacoa. You can have your burrito smothered with red and (or) green salsa or have the two incendiary sauces on the side. These salsas are liquid napalm, not for the faint of heart. The accompanying refried beans are terrific.
13 July 2023: In Spain (and in some Spanish restaurants in the States), a mollete is an open-faced sandwich constructed from a rustic, oval-shaped bread and topped with olive oil, tomato and garlic. If that sounds somewhat like bruschetta, it’s because commonalities among culinary cultures often transcend borders. Leave it to Mexico to enliven and enhance what you might consider a fairy mundane item. Foodtopia lists the mollete as an appetizer, but it’s easily large enough for one. Outwardly it resembles a huarache, but it’s even more generously topped. Picture rustic bread sliced into two halves then topped with refried beans, cabbage, queso fresco, sour cream, pico de gallo and a fiery red chile. Unless your mouth is as big as the Grand Canyon (or Guy Fieri’s), there’s no way you can eat it like a sandwich. It’s too big and too messy. If possible, it’s too delicious. With this find, I may finally kick my torta habit and look for mollete on every menu.
19 April 2023: While the menu didn’t offer capirotada, a specialty of Zacatecas, it did have one of the very best tres leches cakes we’ve had in years. All too often the tres leches cake served at restaurants is of the same quality as supermarket cakes. Foodtopia’s version showcased the moistness that characterizes the traditional Mexican cake made with three milks: whole milk, condensed milk, and evaporated milk. With every press of your fork you’ll be rewarded with those milks seeping out, coalescing with the drizzle of chocolate and especially the layer of strawberry in the cake. That layer reminded us of tres leches cakes restaurants used to serve before finding a mass-produced version that just isn’t nearly as good. Foodtopia’s version would be served in Utopia!
13 July 2023: One of the very few benefits of the planet’s recent record-setting heat is that even trenchermen don’t want to be weighed down by eating too much. Instead of our usual belly-busting portions that call to mind a bear loading up on calories for a long hibernation, we look for smaller portions of light and refreshing treats. Fresas con crema (strawberries with cream) fit the bill perfectly. They satisfy you sweet tooth while having a cooling effect. This popular Mexican no-bake dessert is made from freshly sliced strawberries mixed into a sweetened cream sauce. Foodtopia sprinkles crunchy granola on top to give you a contrast in textures and flavors. The freesias con crema are served at room temperature, the only downer in an otherwise excellent heat breaker.
In keeping strictly to the spirit of the definitions I introduced in the first two paragraphs, the better definition of foodtopia might be something like “a civilization in which nutritious, safe, delicious and affordable food is sustainably produced and available to all.” We don’t currently have that, but we do have Foodtopia, a restaurant specializing in very good Mexican food.
Foodtopia Mexican Cuisine
4959 Pan American Freeway, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Website | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 13 July 2023
1st VISIT: 19 April 2023
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Tres Leches Cake, Chips and Salsa, Barbacoa Burrito, Al Pastor Tacos, Birria Tacos, Con Queso, Dr. Chata, Mollete, Fresas Con Crema