It's amazing how a building as big and beautiful as the Monte Vista Fire Station can stay so hidden. The only Pueblo Revival-style fire station in, well, anywhere was built just before World War II and put up for sale in 1972, when it was no longer big enough for a new breed of fire trucks. Hoses used to hang from the roof of the tower all the way to the garage, which is now the dining room of the Monte Vista Fire Station bar and restaurant.
Today the fire still burns—of a disco inferno type. It’s a place where you can go watch some of the best live music in Albuquerque, such as Felix y Los Gatos. It’s also a place where if, on the right night, you yell, “It’s getting hot in here,” folks might actually take off all their clothes.
I’m not saying it’s a meat market. I did, however, go there for the beef.
For those of you who are wondering how I choose which restaurants to cover, it usually comes down to the proteins. Specifically, what can they tell me about the beef, pork, chicken and fish on the menu?
The beef here is grass-fed, New Mexico-grown, and steroid- and antibiotic-free, and the cooks at Monte Vista deserve praise for what they do with it. The freshly ground burgers are juicy and big. The beef skewers are tender and without a doubt one of the best deals on cow in town. The steak frites hit the spot—hard. A 16-ounce rib eye is coated with a thick, deep purple balsamic-and-wine reduction. Truffle-oil fries and salad come on the side.
My steak frites began with a heart-to-heart with my waitress about the exact shade of pink I wanted my steak, and the cook nailed it.
My steak frites began with a heart-to-heart with my waitress about the exact shade of pink I wanted my steak, and the cook nailed it. With a glass of the house Merlot, each bite was glorious. I knew enough to order sides of the Fire Station’s chipotle aioli and chopped green chile. I still haven’t gotten tired of truffle fries, and these were as well-executed as any. The side salad was decently sized and fresh. Unfortunately, I couldn’t say the same for some of the other salads.
When you buy bagged leaves from a faraway farm, they’re going to start turning brown sooner rather than later. And what are you supposed to do? Throw it out when the first hint of browning appears. Or get someone in the kitchen to pick out the brown leaves. But unless he or she is really good, some brown leaves are going to get through, as was the case with an otherwise nice Greek salad. Alongside my mushroom-and-beef skewers, a salad with a Mediterranean-style vinaigrette and lots of onions and cucumbers had promise. But its red pepper slices had brown spots, and it tasted faintly of mildew. When I pointed this out, our server took care of it with a smile.
On another night, another waitress steered me away from the chicken, and I loved her for it. She said if you’re picky about your proteins, stick with the beef. That’s what she does.
My Monte Vista burger was thick and juicy. Thanks to my side of green chile and a glass of house Cabernet, it disappeared too fast for me to make more notes about it. Monte Vista’s green chile, which blushes with a few touches of roasted red, is probably my favorite side of green in town. You put that stuff on pretty much anything and it’s going to be gone. The burger buns are made locally at Old Town's Rolling in Dough bakery.
My companion ordered the Chimayó-glazed ribs, and I managed to score a rib. The sweet, tangy fire coating the pork seeped down into the fries and corn-battered okra rounds below.
Bowls of mussels are only served on weekends. Though not a local protein, mussels are ranked as a "Best Choice" by Seafood Watch, making them one of the most environmentally friendly seafoods you can eat. Here they come with your choice of several sauces, including coconut curry, Mexican and classic French. Served with a grilled baguette to soak up a small sea of broth, it’s a great way to fill a belly for $10.
Beware: On those weekend nights there could either be loud music or someone passed out at the neighboring table, or both. But the students have gone home for winter break. Fire season is over, for the time being, and you might get a peaceful meal at the Monte Vista Fire Station.
• Steak frites
• Beef skewers
• Monte Vista burger
• House red wine