Though Cecilia’s Cafe is young compared with Casa de Ruiz,
with just a dozen years in Albuquerque, Cecilia Baca is known
for her recipe for carne adovada, chunks of pork marinated in
red chile. Beans and chicharrón (fried pork rind) are served on a
sopaipilla or burrito. For a fun American twist, a sopaipillaburger
features a quarter-pound burger inside a warm tortilla.
Sadie’s opened in 1954 as a diner in an area that was then
considered on the outskirts of town. Sadie’s nephew William
Stafford, one of the managers, describes the food at the
bustling 320-seat restaurant as Native American style with
Mexican influences. To satisfy customer demand for home
versions of the salsa, Sadie’s produces salsa in partnership
with Hatch Chile Co.
The kitchen uses 400 pounds of hand-cut potatoes daily for
the signature fried potatoes with diced onions and chiles that
accompany platters. The fried sopaipillas made with a masa
base are known throughout the area.
El Pinto is the largest restaurant in New Mexico. With 1,200 seats
in four inside dining rooms and on five outside patios, the maze
of rooms is served by well-trained staff who share their passion
for table-made guacamole. Twin brothers John and Jim Thomas
carry on the tradition their parents started when they opened the
tiny El Pinto (the spot) in 1962. The most popular entrees are
green chile/chicken enchiladas and stuffed sopaipillas.
Given their passion for New Mexican chiles, the twins built
a plant behind the restaurant, where they roasted and peeled
approximately 253 tons of chiles last year—76 tons for the
restaurant and 177 tons to make the well-known El Pinto retail
and foodservice green and red salsas and green chile sauce.
Casual dining in Albuquerque often equates to brewery
dining. Some breweries, such as La Cumbre Brewing Co.,
serve only beer. But La Cumbre Malpais Stout, says owner
Jeff Erway, is “a meal in a glass.” Brewed with seven
different malts, the flavor impact is creamy and intense.
Ten miles north of town, Chama River head brewer Justin
Hamilton produces award-winning brews such as 3 Dog Night
porter and Rio Chama Amber Ale, a cult favorite made with a
blend of pale, toasted and caramel malts.
Chama River executive chef Stephen Shook crafts a beer-
friendly menu. The truffled “bleu cheese” fries and Southwest
pot pie with roast chicken in green chile gravy are lunch
favorites. Beer pairing dinners may include grilled buffalo
meatloaf, stout-battered fish and chips, or elk steak.
IVB Canteen is the newest outpost of the nine-unit Il Vicino
Wood Oven Pizza chain from Il Vicino Brewing Co. (IVB).
The pub is a working brewery serving Pigtail Pilsner, Slow
Down Brown ale and others. But the food is also a draw. Beer
Sponge consists of two large pretzels with IVB Lusty Monk
beer chipotle mustard. The Sauce Hog sandwich is slathered
with IPA-infused barbecue sauce.
modern new mexican
Maxime Bouneou realized his dream of sharing his Italian
heritage and culinary training by opening Torinos’ at Home in
a business district of Albuquerque. The trattoria serves classic
European food such as foie gras au torchon with sweet onion
preserve, applewood-smoked duck breast and arugula. But
Bouneou also turns a classic duck confit appetizer into a salad
with spinach, hard-boiled egg, goat cheese, raspberry vinaigrette
and, for a Southwestern touch, caramelized chili pecans.
Last summer, Bouneou launched a set five-course menu.
But, he says, “Albuquerqueans weren’t quite ready for a prix
fixe menu. Albuquerque still has a small Western town feel,
and people didn’t seem to want a five-course meal. So we
went back to a more traditional formula and now serve a la
carte dinners with a few specials.”
Albuquerque is a food city that is constantly honoring the past
and reaching for innovation. At the Hotel Andaluz, recently
remodeled with historic murals intact, Von Blomberg adds a
Mediterranean-Albuquerquean touch to the menu by stretching
his own mozzarella and then serving it with peach marmalade
and green chile salsa. At Ibiza, the hotel’s rooftop bar, he may
serve gazpacho shooters with a touch of watermelon sweetness
in cucumber cups. In the fine-dining Lucia, he menus dishes
such as New Mexico flat iron steak with sweet potato fries and
pickled peppers in a balsamic steak sauce.
For dessert, Von Blomberg lists orange/chocolate/caramel flan
served in a martini glass, but, he adds, “We don’t normally make
green chile ice cream. Our visitors from around the world may
not know it. But we may put it on the menu as a special, because
our locals enjoy it. Chile is what we’re about.”
DEBORAH GROSSMAN IS A SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA JOURNALIST WHO WRITES ABOUT
PEOPLE, PLACES AND PRODUCTS THAT IMPACT THE FOOD-AND-WINE WORLD.