Category Archives: Albuquerque

Albuquerque, New Mexico

It doesn't get more authentic than this at Taqueria Mexico in Albuquerque

It doesn’t get more authentic than this at Taqueria Mexico in Albuquerque

Sure, Albuquerque—or Burque as the locals like to call it—spreads out seemingly forever in a metropolis of “just” 900,000. Believe me, I’ve experienced it, driving from place to place and suffering interminably long, unsynchronized lights. You can view the sprawl by hiking, driving or taking the world’s second-longest tram to the top of the overlooking Sandia Mountains; the nearby cliffs make a good sunset photograph.

Despite the auto focus, there are lots of bike and foot trails both in the hills and urban areas, helping Albuquerque earn Men’s Fitness magazine’s fittest U.S. city in 2007. The preponderance of low-rise adobe-style buildings is also charming, especially in quiet neighbourhoods. Visitors from around the world flock here in early October for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. With more than 600 hot-air balloons, it’s the world’s biggest such festival.

Of course, Albuquerque is outshone by its much smaller but funkier neighbour Santa Fe. But spread throughout the city, you’ll find plenty of fine places to eat, especially those featuring New Mexican cuisine.

It’s the noon rush hour, and Golden Crown Panaderia is slamming busy. People are lined up deciding whether to order a pizza, a meat and cheese sandwich, a big salad or just some puffy loaves of bread and treats from the bakery. I don’t mind, as it gives me time to watch the staff scurrying around and to admire the old, festive adobe building and Christmas lights in the glassed-in porch. My personal-sized pizza is a delightful, four-slice lunch, highlighted by the blue corn crust I’ve chosen over the standard green chile dough.

Hey, it's New Mexico, so of course I have to go for the blue-corn crust on this little pizza gem at Golden Crown Panaderia

Hey, it’s New Mexico, so of course I have to go for the blue-corn crust on this little pizza gem at Golden Crown Panaderia

Golden Crown Panaderia
1103 Mountain Road,
Tuesday to Saturday 7 am-8 pm, Sunday 10 am-8 pm. Closed Monday
Golden Crown Panaderia on Urbanspoon

It’s not often I enjoy a fine meal and wish I’ve ordered something else. But such is the case at *Taqueria Mexico, a tiny, colourful place where you squeeze into an available table or grab a free stool. In my defense, it’s the second lunch I’ve had in an hour (I’m doubling up on road-food research), and a couple of loaded tacos (asada/grilled beef and crispy seafood) is the perfect, large snack for just over $4. But then I make the mistake of looking around me and spotting a couple of customers picking the flesh off a nicely grilled, whole Mojarra fish. Across the way, a guy and a girl are digging into coctels de camaron, large glass goblets stuffed with lime-marinated shrimp in a Clamato base. The highlight is watching the guy crush at least half a dozen packages of crackers into his soupy cocktail, turning it into a bready stew.

A couple of loaded asada tacos at Taqueria Mexico for just over $4

A couple of loaded asada tacos at Taqueria Mexico for just over $4

Taqueria Mexico
415 Lomas Boulevard NE
Monday to Saturday 7 am-7 pm. Closed Sunday
Taqueria Mexico on Urbanspoon

Located in an old two-car garage, Michael Thomas Coffee makes a fine, albeit somewhat pricy Americano. It helps that they roast their own beans, right behind the espresso machine, and are well versed in pulling their shots. They also sell a range of coffee-making systems from Aeropress to Chemex and Clever brewers, though they don’t make handcrafted drip coffees—something about it taking too long. On a warm Albuquerque afternoon, it’s nice to sit under an awning in the courtyard and watch folks go to and from neighbouring new-age health businesses.

Nice java at Michael Thomas Coffee, enhanced by the nice courtyard surrounded by new-age health businesses

Nice java at Michael Thomas Coffee, enhanced by the courtyard surrounded by new-age health businesses

Michael Thomas Coffee
1111 Carlisle Boulevard SE
Monday to Friday 6:30 am-6 pm, Saturday 7 am-2 pm, Sunday 9 am-1 pm
Michael Thomas Coffee on Urbanspoon

Amazing food comes out of this tiny kitchen at Sophia's Place

Amazing food comes out of this tiny kitchen at Sophia’s Place

Colourful *Sophia’s Place is in a little, wood-beamed old adobe building, with crowded counter service and bathrooms out back. It’s a great spot for Mexican-themed breakfasts such as tacos and quesadillas (both somewhat unusual in the a.m.), along with standards like big burritos and huevos rancheros. But I’m here for the weekend special of heavenly blue corn pancakes, topped with strawberries, blackberries and, the piece de resistance, piñon nut butter; a plentiful half order of two cakes is only $5. Sophia’s also serves lunch and dinner. Look for the duck enchiladas, at night, when they have them.

Can't beat the blue corn pancakes, topped with fresh fruit and piñon nut butter at Sophia's Place

Can’t beat the blue corn pancakes, topped with fresh fruit and piñon nut butter, at Sophia’s Place

Sophia’s Place
6313 4 Street NW
Weekdays 7 am-9 pm, Saturday 9 am-9 pm, Sunday 9 am-2 pm
Sophia's Place on Urbanspoon

The Grove Cafe & Market is a more upscale place, with better-groomed customers and somewhat higher prices for breakfast and lunch. But the payoff is quality ingredients and good execution in a relaxed, spacious environment. For example, the chef makes daily small batches of mozzarella, which can be savoured in an olive-bread sandwich accompanied by local tomatoes, arugula and basil ($10). At breakfast, fresh fruit is mounded on the pancakes and comes in a small dish with my poached eggs, perched above lovely, thin slices of toasted sourdough ($6.75). The breakfast sandwich features a thick layer of freshly scrambled egg, squeezed into a house-made English muffin, also for under $7. Oh, and the coffee is Intelligentsia.

First-rate poached eggs perched on sourdough at Grove Cafe

First-rate poached eggs perched on sourdough at Grove Cafe

The Grove Cafe & Market
600 Central Avenue SE, Suite A
Tuesday to Saturday 7 am-4 pm, Sunday 8 am-3 pm. Closed Monday
Grove Café & Market on Urbanspoon

I previously mentioned the *Guava Tree Cafe as one of my favourite sandwich places on a recent road trip. It features Cuban-style sandwiches and Venezuelan arepas, featuring an unleavened corn-meal bread. My pernil sandwich is a fantastic mix of slow-roasted pork, sweet caramelized onion, Swiss cheese and garlic sauce, prepared by a whirling dervish of a cook. Add a side of yuca crisps and a coconut flan for dessert, and I’ve got a full Caribbean dining experience.

The pernil sandwich is the bomb at Guava Tree Cafe

The pernil sandwich is the bomb at Guava Tree Cafe

Guava Tree Cafe
216 Yale Boulevard SE, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Weekdays 9 am-4 pm, weekends 11 am-3 pm
Guava Tree Cafe on Urbanspoon

Is it just me, or are some microbreweries just hard to find, located in an obscure spot that’s easy to drive past, especially at night, and even before you’ve had a pint? Fortunately, the effort to get to Nexus Brewery is well worth it. With my first sip of their malty Scottish ale, I’m transported to the Highlands. It’s one of about 10 ales and stouts available in the long taproom, with lots of patio seating and a garage door that opens on warm evenings. Chase your brew, if you wish, with something to munch on. I’d recommend the chopped pork sliders or the signature fried pickles.

Fine Scottish ale at Nexus Brewery

Fine Scottish ale at Nexus Brewery

Nexus Brewery
4730 Pan American Freeway East, NE, Suite D
Sunday to Thursday 11 am-10 pm, Friday-Saturday 11 am-11 pm
Nexus Brewery on Urbanspoon

Frontier Restaurant is definitely an Albuquerque institution, across the street from the University of New Mexico. It’s built for the masses, sprawling over five rooms and taking orders at up to eight stations. A green light goes on when a station comes open, and your order number is called out over an intercom when the food is ready, usually in scant minutes. Frontier has something for everyone, at nearly any time of the day or night. Want eggs at suppertime or enchiladas after midnight? No problem. New Mexican food? All the bases are covered, as they are for American standards like burgers and sandwiches. I’m here mostly for the spectacle and thus just order a small, well-flavoured bowl of posole, a thick soup featuring pork and hominy (hulled corn kernels), which along with a large tortilla sets me back $2.05. Frontier definitely isn’t fancy, but the food is cheap and plentiful, and the place is dripping with character.

Green means go: A unique ordering system at Frontier Restaurant

Green means go: A unique ordering system at Frontier Restaurant

Frontier Restaurant
2400 Central Avenue SE
Daily 5 am-1 am
Frontier Restaurant on Urbanspoon

If you’re hankering for real, old-fashioned New Mexican chile, you’d best head over to Mary & Tito’s Cafe. Their cooks have been doing it right for decades, using Salem, New Mexico chiles unadulterated by powder or other fillers. This dedication was recognized by a 2010 James Beard award. They make a first-rate green chile but are famous for their red. To avoid being distracted by rice and beans, I go for an a la carte order ($7.50) of their signature carne adovada (cubed pork), which arrives as a mound of tender, slow-simmered meat covered in bright red, full-flavoured chile. The burn is intense but manageable, though beads of sweat are soon forming on my forehead.

Mary & Tito's and its classic  red chile is an Albuquerque institution

Mary & Tito’s, with classic dishes like this red carne adovada, is an Albuquerque institution

Mary & Tito’s Cafe
2711 4 Street NW
Monday to Thursday 9 am-6pm, Friday-Saturday 9 am-8 pm. Closed Sunday
Mary & Tito's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Best Sandwiches in the U.S. Mountain States

Honking big, glorious sandwiches at Sedona Memories Bakery & Cafe in Sedona, Arizona

Honking big, glorious sandwiches at Sedona Memories Bakery & Cafe in Sedona, Arizona

I don’t often get excited about sandwiches on road trips. That’s because they’re often, well, boring. But occasionally, some place bowls me over with a sandwich that’s incredibly fresh, creative and served, of course, between two pieces of great bread that definitely weren’t pulled from a bag. Here, then, are the top sandwiches I feasted on during a recent trip through the U.S. mountain states.

Creative chandeliers  at 626 on Rood in Grand Junction, Colorado

Creative chandeliers at 626 on Rood in Grand Junction, Colorado

If you’re craving some excellence on a long road trip, please, please take a short detour off the dreary I-70 in southwest Colorado and navigate your way through Grand Junction to its historic downtown and 626 on Rood. Yes, it’s a more upscale place, where you’ll pay a pittance for street-front parking, get linen napkins and heavy utensils and have your water glass filled from a long-necked wine bottle. None of this matters, nor does the menu, frankly. Just order the smoked duck breast club sandwich, and you’ll never be able to look at an ordinary club the same way again. It’s that oh-my-God good. Besides the incredibly succulent and plentiful slices of apple-wood-smoked duck (adequate adjectives fail me) there’s pepper bacon, Napa cabbage and roasted garlic mayo, all squeezed between two delightful pieces of challah bread.

This duck club, at 626 on Rood, may be the best sandwich I've ever had

This duck club, at 626 on Rood, may be the best sandwich I’ve ever had

Oh, and get some fantastic sweet potato fries as your side, and start things off with a complimentary plate of French baguette slathered in house-made herbed butter. It might be the best $12 you’ll ever spend on lunch. The duck club isn’t listed on the dinner menu, but just ask and they will deliver: They promised me.

626 on Rood
626 Rood Avenue, Grand Junction, Colorado
Monday to Saturday 11 am-11 pm, Sunday 4 pm-10 pm
626 on Rood on Urbanspoon

I’m taking a two-hour detour for lunch, one that carries me steeply up through dense pine forests and around 15 mph-switchbacks en route to Silver City, in the southwest corner of New Mexico. The Curious Kumquat is just one of those nationally-recognized, destination restaurants you go out of your way for; they’re even sponsoring an NPR program I’m listening to on the tortuous approach.

What makes the Kumquat special? Consider that chef-owner Rob Connoley likes to forage for wild edibles—like cattails, forest moss and crawfish for today’s evening menu. For a relative bargain of about $40, I can enjoy a five-course tasting dinner featuring jerk rabbit, Catalan duck and smoked roots.

Fabulous mole-chicken sandwich at Curious Kumquat in Silver City, New Mexico

Fabulous mole-chicken sandwich at Curious Kumquat in Silver City, New Mexico

But I’m here for a real lunch deal ($7.50), a fantastic Oaxacan sandwich, with plentiful, moist pieces of shredded mole chicken, avocado, goat cheese and apple, served on lovely, seed-crusted ciabatta. The included side salad is no afterthought but a carefully constructed mix of quinoa, grape and sliced vegetables. The server brings around a couple of spectacular-looking desserts, but there’s no room, even for a jelly-filled sandwich cookie. It’s too bad I have to drive, otherwise I’d sample one of their 70 listed international beers.

Curious Kumquat
111 East College Avenue, Silver City, New Mexico
Tuesday to Saturday, lunch 11 am-5 pm, dinner 5:30-8:30 pm (final seating)
The Curious Kumquat / Cafe at the Kumquat on Urbanspoon

“You been on Man Vs. Food?” a customer asks the server as he soldiers through his sandwich at Sedona Memories Bakery & Café, in Sedona, Arizona. “You serve halves?” I add, eying the monsters anchoring tables in the gusty winds. “No, just entire sandwiches,” she replies. “You’ve got to eat the whole thing. We tie you to the chair till you’re finished.”

Sedona Memories doesn’t seem much concerned about aesthetics. Faded red-and-white checked plastic tablecloths cover scuffed beige plastic tables, with chairs to match, and the patio area overlooks a dusty gravel parking lot. This means all the energy goes into producing wonderful, thick, thick sandwiches, all for a bargain $7.25 in tourist-choked Sedona. Eschewing standards like egg and tuna salad or roast beef, I opt for one piled with veggies, cream cheese, avocado and sunflower seeds. What brings it all together is the house-made bread, especially the moist, dense whole wheat or seven grain. Forget getting my mouth around it; I have to stretch my hand just to contain it.

This bad boy holds down the tablecloth at Sedona Memories Bakery & Cafe

This bad boy holds down the tablecloth at Sedona Memories Bakery & Cafe

Sedona Memories Bakery & Cafe
321 Jordan Road, Sedona, Arizona
Monday to Friday 10 am-2 pm. Closed Saturday and Sunday
Sedona Memories Bakery Cafe on Urbanspoon

“Many have eaten here… few have died,” declares a sign in Big D’s Downtown Dive, a colourful Roswell diner featuring a collage of New Mexico license plates and tables covered in laminated maps. The Dive is known for its hamburgers and my choice of a cheesesteak sandwich, which seems a bit steep at $8.99 till it lands with a shudder on the table. If they hadn’t cut it in half, it would have measured at least 16 inches of soft roll absolutely stuffed with grilled steak, onions, peppers, mushrooms, green chiles and melted Swiss (my only quibble is it’s a tad salty, for me). This quivering mass is still steaming as I struggle onto the second half, with enough spillage to soak three napkins. It’s a good thing I don’t opt for the double meat (an added $3). That may have been sufficient to trigger my premature demise. One nice detail here is the cucumber-flavoured tank of water.

Hearty cheesesteak sandwich at Big D's Downtown Dive in Roswell, New Mexico

Hearty cheesesteak sandwich at Big D’s Downtown Dive in Roswell, New Mexico

Big D’s Downtown Dive
505 North Main Street, Roswell, New Mexico
Monday to Friday 11 am-9 pm
Big D's Downtown Dive on Urbanspoon

It takes a while for my lunch-hour order to be taken at *Guava Tree Café in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but I don’t mind. It lets me peer into the kitchen and watch the fastest-moving cook I’ve ever seen. She’s a literal whirling dervish, assembling Cuban-style sandwiches and Venezuelan arepas, featuring unleavened corn-meal bread. The guy behind the counter isn’t much slower—taking orders, delivering food and whipping up delicious fresh tropical juices. After agonizing deliberation (I really want to order an arepa pocket stuffed with shredded beef, plantains and black beans), I opt instead for a larger Pernil sandwich ($7.50). It’s a fantastic mix of slow-roasted pork, sweet caramelized onion, Swiss cheese and garlic sauce, warm pressed on Cuban bread. Add a side of yuca crisps and a coconut flan for dessert, and I’ve got a full Caribbean dining experience. My only advice: Don’t be in a hurry. The staff’s got that covered for you.

Savoury Cuban-style sandwiches at Guava Tree Cafe in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Savoury Cuban-style sandwiches at Guava Tree Cafe in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Guava Tree Cafe
216 Yale Boulevard SE, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Weekdays 9 am-4 pm, weekends 11 am-3 pm
Guava Tree Cafe on Urbanspoon

Honourable Mentions for a couple of great places where I tried something other than their most famous sandwiches.

Tony Caputo’s Market & Deli (Salt Lake City, Utah) is one of America’s top delis and renowned for its Caputo sandwich, loaded with prosciutto, mortadella, salami, provolone, olive oil and balsamic ($8.25 for a monster whole, $4.85 for a half).
Caputo's Market & Deli on Urbanspoon

Check out the cheeses, meats and great sandwiches at Tony Caputo's Market & Deli in Salt Lake City

Check out the cheeses, meats and great sandwiches at Tony Caputo’s Market & Deli in Salt Lake City

Verde Lea Market Deli & Grill (Cottonwood, Arizona) makes grilled-steak tortas (big, $7 Mexican sandwiches) that are “three-quarters-of-a-pound of heaven in your mouth,” a server tells me. I do try the toasted telera, far superior to any of the round torta breads I’ve had elsewhere on this trip.
Verde Lea Market Deli and Grill on Urbanspoon

Try a great torta at Verde Lea Market Deli & Grill in Cottonwood, Arizona

Try a great torta at Verde Lea Market Deli & Grill in Cottonwood, Arizona

Tales From the Road

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Hoppy band at La Cumbre 

True story. I walk up to the bar at La Cumbre Brewing Company, in Albuquerque, New Mexico to order a pint of their prize-winning Malpais stout. A customer at the counter looks over and asks, in a slightly slurred voice, what’s inside the soft briefcase I’m carrying. I say a tablet and a camera. “What do you take pictures of?” “Food, drinks, restaurants, that kind of thing.” “I’m a photographer, too,” he says. “Oh, what kind of photography do you do?” “Dead bodies… for a medical examiner’s office.” The conversation comes to a dead halt. Anyway, my stout (“a meal in a glass”) is heavy on the tongue and somewhat hoppy. The crowd is exuberant, a band is wailing on guitars and a food truck parked outside is selling hot empanadas. It makes you feel good to be alive.

In Roswell, New Mexico—where there’s a UFO museum and alien figures scattered through town—a friendly guy at a hamburger joint tells me his 19-year-old daughter had abandoned her vegetarian upbringing by eating her first ever hamburger the week before at said joint. The owner wanders by and asks the daughter how her burger was. “Best I’ve ever eaten.”

If you're going to have your first burger, might as well make it a green chile cheeseburger

If you’re going to have your first burger, might as well make it a green chile cheeseburger