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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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: 19 April 2023
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Tres Leches Cake, Chips and Salsa, Barbacoa Burrito, Al Pastor Tacos, Birria Tacos, Con Queso
2 thoughts on “Foodtopia – Albuquerque, New Mexico”
You can spell consomme’ correctly but you refuse to spell chile’ correctly? What the (expletive deleted)?
Glad to hear that Foodtopia has a steady crowd which is helping them keep their doors open. I was both relieved and concerned when we showed up for our inaugural visit at noon on a weekday and there were just a few tables occupied. That being said, there were only two women taking care of everyone and they were a bit stretched between those of us who were dining in and several people who opted to take out. Their menu clearly states that they are not a fast food restaurant, as everything is prepared fresh it may take a little longer. This wait was not as long as that at the MVD and it certainly was well worth it.
Foodtopia is a lovely place. Apologies for the partially eaten food pics. I was so anxious to dive into my birria quesadilla and blown away by the size of dining companion John’s burrito (barbacoa smothered with green chile) that it wasn’t until we were several bites in that I remembered to take some pictures. I had planned on making the quesadillas a “plate”, which means adding rice and beans but that somehow got lost in translation. I’m not sorry because I couldn’t even finish the food that I did get. The reason for that is I ate too many of the delicious hot, fresh chips that came with the salsa as an appetizer. It was such a treat for me to be able to eat the salsa for a change since it had all the piquancy of ketchup. (You borrowed that from me Gil, admit it.) Nice flavor though.
The red and green chile, however, was another story. Both were quite piquant, only allowing a small fork full taste from wimpy me. Thankfully I had the wonderful birria flavors, which has seduced me like Gil says has seduced a lot of Americans. Small wonder! Birria broth is Mexico’s delicious addition to other healing soups like chicken noodle, dal and miso.
Sadly they were out of the tres leches cake but there will definitely be a next time so hopefully then. Our wonderful server was very apologetic, about the wait time and then, when our bill was settled, about her English not being so good. We assured her that there were no worries about the time and when John paid he added, “Tu ingles es mejor que mi español.”