The penultimate day of the 2023 International Balloon Fiesta will be memorable for many reasons. Foremost may be the 2023 annular eclipse whose path took it directly above the Balloon Fiesta Park, host of the world’s largest ballooning event. That day will be imprinted on our minds for another reason–our inaugural visit to Al-quds Mediterranean Grill in Rio Rancho. The second instantiation of perhaps Albuquerque’s most popular Middle Eastern restaurant is located on The Village on Rio Rancho, a timeworn shopping center that flourished in the early 1990s when Intel’s Fab 4 was fully operational.
Neither owner Mohammad Abdeljalil or his son were in Rio Rancho when we visited. Our server wasn’t able to tell us whether or not the location would include a marketplace as its elder sibling does. He did assure us that the menu at the original Al-qud’s is available. That means Al-qud’s II assumed only the spot which previously housed Jerusalem: Taste of the Holy Land. In all other respects it’s the Al-qud’s we’ve known and loved since discovering the original in November, 2018 when it was situated on the south side of San Pedro.
Al-Qud, by the way, is the Arabic name for the city of Jerusalem, literally meaning “The Holy One.” The city of Jerusalem is sacred to many religious traditions, including the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam which consider it a holy city. Some of the most sacred places for each of these religions are found in Jerusalem. The one shared between all three is the Temple Mount. It saddened us to contemplate that while we were about to dine on our favorite Middle Eastern fare, a deleterious conflict was raging along the Gaza Strip.
Dine-in and carry-out options abound. Should you decide to dine in, there are several comfortable booths and tables available. Booths face east, providing panoramic views of the Sandias. The space is actually more commodious than the first instantiation of the restaurant. Some of the Middle Eastern accoutrements on the walls was inherited from Al-qud’s predecessor. They paint a picture of a very vibrant culture.
Baba ghanouj is a signature grilled eggplant purée found across the Middle East. It’s enriched with tahini and seasoned with lemon juice and lots of garlic. The dish has a smoky, pungent flavor and makes a wonderful dip for the accompanying pita. In my case, it’s scooped up in generous mouthful portions. Each bite is an adventure in appreciation. With enough garlic to ward off a family of vampires, breath-wrecking notes of the baba ghanouj will remain with you long after your meal. It’s probably not a good idea to plan any romantic overtures after enjoying it.
Abraham once told me he makes some 700 pieces of pita on an average day. I’ll typically have four of them each visit and we take home another half dozen. It’s among the very best pita in New Mexico, especially when it’s warm and fresh. Though the pita at Al-qud II arrived warm at our table, it wasn’t exactly fresh. When pita dries, it not only loses its pliability, but it becomes stiff and (dare I say) tastes like store-bought pita. I suspect the pita wasnt made on the premises as it is at the original Al-qud’s.
Sprigs of parsley are a very common “plate decoration” at restaurants across the country. It likely became de rigueur so reduce empty spaces on the plate and to add color to dull looking food. At American restaurants, parsley is a supporting actor, never the star. In Middle Eastern cuisine, parsley turns the tables around. Dishes like bakdunecea (parsley with tahini and lemon juice served with olive oil) and tabouli (parsely, cucumber, tomato, mint, onion, garlic, bulgur, and tossed with olive oil and fresh lemon juice are centered around parsley. Al-qud’s tabouli is superb. Ingredients are in perfect proportion to one another to impart a fresh, herbaceous and lemony.
Al-qud’s may bill itself as a Mediterranean grill and indeed, it is that–but it’s also a wonderful restaurant for salads. You won’t find the usual salad suspects so common in American restaurants nor are Mediterranean salads bathed in fatty dressings. Freshness is a hallmark of Al-qud’s salads. Fattoush is is basically a Mediterranean fried bread salad that typically includes lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes parsley and fried pieces of pita bread. The pita is somewhat like croutons only much better. The dressing is a bright, fresh Mediterranean olive oil, lemon juice and garlic dressing. This is a delightful salad.
As is common in the world of food and menu writing, there exists somewhat of a debate as to whether “kebab” or “kabab” is the proper spelling for the delicious marinated meat chunks skewered then grilled over a fire. Frankly if you delve into the origin of both spellings, you’re likely to come away more confused. Rather than risk confusion, just enjoy them. Al-qud’s beef kabobs are encircled by a lagoon of hummus sprinkled with sumac. The hummus (ground chickpeas with tahini sauce, lemon juice and garlic) is superb as a dip for warm, fresh pita. The marinated grilled beef cut into bite-sized shunks is grilled to about a medium-well degree of doneness.
“But of all the things I’ve learned, I never learned how to say that word out loud. I just want something to eat made with a vertical rotisserie of lamb meat.” How many of us have experienced the dilemma that plagued Country singer Luke Bryan in this hilarious video. It’s likely most of us took for granted that “gyros” was pronounced the same way as the first part of the word gyroscope. Over time we learned the proper pronunciation is actually “yee-roh.” This flavorful dish gets its name from the Greek “gyros,” meaning “turn.” This refers to how the succulent slices of meat are prepared, gently rotating on a vertical spit, their flavor deepening with each turn. Al-qud’s version of gyros is terrific especially with lots of tzadziki (try pronouncing that).
Al-Qud’s is no slouch when it comes to desserts. Trays of baklava behind a glass pastry case may elicit involuntary salivation. Don’t hesitate to order the pistachio baklava. This baklava is the very best in New Mexico. The salty pistachios are a perfect foil for the cloying honey, making this a dessert of complementary and contrasting flavors which go so well together. Bite into the layers of luscious flaky phylo and you’ll be rewarded with a moist, delicious, wonderful way to finish an outstanding meal.
Al-qud’s Mediterranean Grill has found a second home in Rio Rancho, a home denizens of the City of Vision will find welcoming and wonderful.
Al-quds Mediterranean Grill II
1690 Rio Rancho Blvd., Suite B
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 14 October 2023
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Gyros, Beef Kabob, Baba Ghanoush, Hummus, Fatoush, Tabouli