Alibi V.14 No.40 • Oct 6-12, 2005 ››
Best Other Stuff
Best New Restaurant
Da Vinci's Gourmet Pizza
We're lucky here in Albuquerque. We have more restaurants per capita than heavy hitters like New York City, and new ones seem to keep popping up every week. Our readers loved lots of new restaurants but they gave the most votes to the carry-out-and-delivery-only pizza masters at Da Vinci's Gourmet Pizza. Our readers also went crazy over Nob Hill's swank new sushi joint Crazy Fish Restaurant, which got second. The meat-lover's paradise over at the Gruet Steak House garnered third.
Best Coffee Shop
Flying Star Café/Satellite Coffee
In the ongoing competition for the best local coffee haven, the ever-expanding empire of Flying Star/Satellite has commanded the top of the coffee bean heap. Most true brew barbarians rate their kingdoms with two standards: coffee quality and atmosphere. (Thanks to Starbucks, no one rates prices anymore.) Satellite's coffee is perfectly roasted, their baristas trained in military boot camp-like fashion and owners Jean and Mark Bernstein have spared no expense for the décor. The runner-up in this bean battle is Winning Coffee Co., or Winning the Anti-Corporate, whose coffee is decidedly good and the bingo parlor furniture never seems to gainsay its loyal patrons. Third place is the Blue Dragon, locally known for its fair-trade coffee and fabulous pizza. The bean-pirates at Buckies didn't make the cut this year, but they will no doubt be back again, just like their freeze-dried coffee cakes.
Tie: 66 Diner, Route 66 Malt Shop
Just for the record, we'd like to clear up what appears to be a great source of confusion to many of us here in the Duke City. First off, there's the 66 Diner, which is located at 1405 Central NE, in the University area. Then there's the Route 66 Malt Shop, which you'll find at 1720 Central SW, near Old Town. Both are award-wining old-timey diners. Both are located right off Central. And, yes, both employ the number "66" in their names. However, there is no such place as the "Route 66 Diner." And when you respond back with answers like "Route 66" or "the one on Central," it just makes us very confused. And then angry. Next year, please take pains to get your diner names in order. Thank you. The ever-expanding empire of Owl Café secured a not-so-confusing second place, while Hurricane's breezed right in to third.
It used to be that when vegetarians went out to eat, they had their "pick" of three options: french fries, soggy vegetable Napoleons or starvation. But screw that! Now we've got entire restaurants devoted to cruelty-free cuisine, and you don't even have to be a vegetarian to enjoy the diversity and flavor of the foods available. Annapurna, now with several locations here and in Santa Fe, continues to clean up as the only gourmet ayurvedic restaurant and bakery this side of the Ganges. 20 Carrots is a favorite among veg-heads and omnivores alike, and the mysterious nuggets of fried vegetable matter at Fei's Health Café are indulgent enough to take our minds off meat completely.
Relish Cheese Market & Sandwiches
The idea of a sandwich sounds easy enough: bread, meat, cheese, condiment, maybe some lettuce and a slice or two of tomato. What could be simpler, right? Wrong! It turns out that the humble sandwich is really a fine art, one that the boys at Relish Cheese Market & Sandwiches have manipulated to even loftier, more drool-inducing heights. Thanks, guys—now we're ruined. Second place Deli Mart West (off Coors) makes creating a great sandwich look easy and taste even better. Hello Deli! may have a cutesy name, but when it comes to making great heros, grinders, hogies and subs, they're all business.
If you're going to the plasma center every week, reusing plastic sporks and your Eddie Money concert tee is your only dress-up attire, then Frontier is still the place for you. Second-place Hurricane's dishes out nostalgic diner fare at pre-inflation prices while Mannie's serves heaps of tasty grub for a shockingly small pile of change. Ho Ho Chinese Food will feed you way better than St. Martin's, and not tap your already lean purse or wallet. Torn flannel shirt and brown paper bag-covered bottle of Boone's Farm not included.
Flying Star Café
Mmmm. Smell that? That's the nectareous redolence of a bakery, brewing up sweets to sublime perfection. Peruse the sugar cookies, dapple in the cakes, beware of the pies (no, you don't need that third slice. Well ... maybe you do). On the prowl for the bakery with the highest marks? Alibi readers say it's the Flying Star, everyone's favorite place to exercise their saccharine-inspired addictions. But don't forget about the Great Harvest Bread Co. (a totally different kind of irresistible, sink-your-teeth-into-that-thick-honeyed-bread bakery) and the fancy French creations at Le Chantilly, who both came in second. Last, but certainly not least is the ABC Cake Shop, which continually astounds us with their paradisiacal cake confections.
Best Undiscovered Restaurant
Albuquerque, the final frontier. These are the voyagers of the starship Hungerprise. Its continuing mission to explore this town, seek out new spots to grub, and to boldly eat where not many have eaten before. ... Admit it, you're all humming the song in your heads. Nerds. Our space cruiser has landed first on the planet Thai Tip, then taken on a diplomatic mission to the planet Chef Du Jour. Our final destination leads us through a wormhole to the joint galaxies of DaVinci's Gourmet Pizza and Relish. We're tired now—time for a trip to 10-forward for some Romulan Ale, after which we'll all pass out in the ready room. Make it so.
Best Patio Dining
Considering the fact that Albuquerque typically enjoys 742 days of scorching sunshine every year, it's disappointing that we don't have more restaurants with patio dining. Thankfully, we do have dozens of venues that offer great options for dining in the great outdoors. It makes perfect sense that the North Valley's El Pinto, with its elaborate, gigantic garden-like patio spaces, would win this category. When it comes to grubbing in the fresh air, El Pinto is the king of kings. The ever popular Nob Hill brew pub Kelly's nabbed a well-deserved second. Flying Star—Downtown, with its small but appealing second-story patio space, and the shaded seating at their Rio Grande location—came in third.
Zinc Wine Bar & Bistro
When you want to be wined and dined without any whining, you head to Zinc. After all, it is one of the few places in town that still espouses valet parking. The servers at Artichoke Café, Sadie's, Scalo, Yanni's and Zea's Rotisserie like waiting on you so much that they all simultaneously rushed your table and got stuck together at second place. Likewise, Ambrozia, Graze, India Palace and Rancher's Club got caught up in a zealous stampede to serve you the best, landing each of them in a four-way tie for third place.
Best Restaurant Name
Graze by Jennifer James
Graze makes us think of cows in a field on a sunny day, but we're sure the name actually refers to the restaurant's forward-thinking, exceptionally social dining style: small portions for sharing, everything tastes delicious and you don't leave feeling like you've impregnated yourself with something horrible. Anyway, Graze is our first-place titleholder this year. Second was a sexy three-way tie between Buca di Beppo, Crazy Fish and Geezamboni's (or Zamboni's, depending on whom you talk to). Third place was an even sexier six-way tie between Ambrozia, Artichoke Café, California Witches Pasta & Curry, Laru Ni Hati, Murphy's Mule Barn and Relish. Way to work with the English language, entrepreneurs!
Best Mom 'n' Pop Restaurant
Although they bear no biological relation to us, the folks at Thai Tip always make us feel like we've popped in for a nice family supper. You gave homegrown Poppi's Pizza and Loyola's Family Restaurant (aka Loyola's Cactus Flower) second and third place, respectively. But we know they'll always be no. 1 in your hearts.
Flying Star Café
A dining experience is about so much more than just what's on your plate. If you're going to fork out good money, you want a nice environment. Part of that is the company you dine with. Part of that is the staff who serves you. Perhaps the biggest part is the actual ambiance in which you've chosen to dine, and on that score the various Flying Star establishments scattered around the city rise to the top of the heap. Each one is unique, but each presents the visual background you need to enjoy your meal to the utmost. The lush atmosphere at Nob Hill's Zinc Wine Bar & Bistro came in second. The North Valley's beautiful, sprawling El Pinto came in third.
Best Romantic Dinner Spot
When you're in the mood for romance, Alibi readers recommend the softly-lit, cloistered Old Town charm of Antiquity. Alibi staffer Jessica Cassyle Carr recommends her place and some Barry Manilow, but you're a little classier than she is. For second place, you couldn't make up your love-smitten minds between the breathtaking views of Sandia Peak's High Finance and the cosmopolitan intimacy of Nob Hill's Zinc. Finally, perennially romantic Scalo is always on your mind when it comes to a good pre-mate wine 'n' dine.
Best Sunday Brunch
Ambrozia Café and Wine Bar
There's nothing like rolling out of bed on a late Sunday morning, slapping on a baseball cap, slipping on some flip-flops and joining a few buddies for hash browns and O.J. Brunch is perhaps the most luxurious of all modern-day meals. If you're in the mood for something a little higher-class (scrap the cap and scrub the sleep off your face), Ambrozia is the place to go for food that's luxurious in more ways than the time of day. However, Burqueños are also fond of Garduño's and Weck's Restaurant for Sunday treats, and corporate Le Peep Restaurant always manages to attract a sizeable crowd.
Best Late Night/All Night
Surprise! Oh, wait, there's nothing surprising about that at all. Yes, Frontier, again. But, hey, here's something that's really exciting—La Crêperie Roulante won second place! That's right. Richard Agee's mobile home for gourmet grub (conveniently parked on Gold between Third and Fourth Streets most weekends) sopped up votes from Downtown's hungry late-night populace like meaty philly cheese steak grease on soft white loaves of French bread. Be a pal and buy Richard a beer sometime. You also stop at Flying Star, Los Betos and Taco Cabana.
Maybe it's because she wears her family's Midwestern heritage on the sleeve of her fine-dining jacket. Or perhaps it's because she brought the big concept of small plates to life at Graze, and made it hip without an ounce of pretension. Her staff is top-notch yet down-to-earth. Her food? Clean, modern, luxurious. Also, comforting, nutritious and creative in its simplicity. In case you were wondering, we're talking about the same plate of food here. Jennifer James occupies a whole hemisphere of seemingly contradictory spaces at once, but she's so comfortable there, you'd never know it. She's just as a natural as can be. We think that may have something to do with why you chose her as your favorite Albuquerque chef of 2005.
True, Martini Grille has just about perfected the art of the cocktail, but readers also like the way they shake things up at second and third place winners Zinc and Seasons. Here's a quick and easy way to recreate some of that velvet-hour magic on your own turf: Combine one jigger gin, one pony dry vermouth, a dash orange bitters and a dash triple sec. Stir well over ice cubes and strain into a chilled Martini glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel. The first person to correctly name this divine libation wins a cool prize, courtesy of the Alibi. E-mail your responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Best Wine List
Zinc Wine Bar & Bistro
No shocking cliff-hanger here. Zinc and its accompanying Cellar Bar put the wine in wino. And if you are—or want to pretend you are—an upper crustacean, then you know that ordering a well-chilled glass of the Doc L. Riesling and smoking a Capri ultra light will get you into the cooler-than-cool club downstairs. Coming in second this time is Le Café Miche, followed closely by Ambrozia. But there were a few nominees that stood out in this category that will also get subcategory titles all their own. The Olive Garden (yes, somebody out there actually thinks they have a great wine list) receives the honorary sub-title of Best Place to Pay Too Much For a Glass Of Riunite. Quarters and Jubilation Fine Wine & Spirits are jointly bestowed the title of Best Place to Carry Your Fine Wine Out in a Paper Sack. Lastly, Casa Rodeña gets the props for Best Wine with Which to Impress Your Bitchy In-Laws.
Best Beer Selection
Liquid bread comes in many flavors, but hopheads agree the widest variety can be imbibed at Kelly's in Nob Hill. Anodyne lets the good times flow with as much as 90 types of brew in the bottle and on tap. Chama River Brewing Co., and their Second Street tap room, nabbed third with a delicious assortment of beers born right here in New Mexico. Cheers!
Best Restaurant for Seafood
Don't let the fact that we're thousands of miles away from the closest ocean dissuade you from ordering fish in the Duke City. Do what countless others do and get yours at Pelican's. Fearless fish-eaters also recommend any mariscos restaurant (that's Mexican seafood, and believe us, there are many to be enjoyed here) or a number of big chains like Pappadeaux and Rock Fish.
Best Steakhouse/Red Meat Establishment
Great American Land & Cattle Company
I know what you really want. Deep down inside you want a big, fatty, juicy, bleeding, crispy-edged chunk of flesh. And I bet you want a steak, too. Great American Land & Cattle Company will give you what you want and more. The second place meatery is Gruet Steak House—try your grilled beef with a glass of their superb rosé—and third place goes to Paul's Monterey Inn, home of the best prime rib outside of the Midwest. These digs will make you want to go kiss a cow on the lips. OK, maybe some things are best left to the Midwesterners.
Best Restaurant for a High-Powered Business Meeting
Ranchers Club of New Mexico
Buy! Sell! Eat! Sleep! With such a hectic, high-powered schedule, we here at the Alibi think that the best way to impress our potential clients is with impeccable service, an unmatchable quality of food and an atmosphere that more than quietly whispers "expensive." You agreed when you chose the Ranchers Club, followed by Yanni's and, last but not least impressive, the Albuquerque Petroleum Club.
Best Restaurant in Which to Eat Your Last Meal
Tie: Ambrozia Café and Wine Bar, Artichoke Café, Graze by Jennifer James, Ranchers Club of New Mexico, Tucanos Brazilian Grill
Don't be sad that soon you'll be a goner; be glad that you still get to have the best meal of your life. Albuquerqueans must surely be salivating at the prospect, because they just got so gosh darn excited they plumb forgot to choose just one. In indecision city, Ambrozia, Artichoke Café, Graze, Rancher's Club and Tucanos Brazilian Grill sidled up to first place. Second place tied with Corn Maiden, The County Line, Great American Land and Cattle, Mykonos, TD's Gentlemen's Club (now that's the right idea), Trombino's and Zea's Rotisserie.
Best Restaurant for Out-of Town Guests
Garduño's of Mexico
This restaurant is practically a cathedral to visiting pilgrims, so it's no holy miracle that so many parishioners have shown their loyalty by praying at the altar of crunchy tacos, steaming fajitas and ice-cold coconut margaritas. Second place goes to El Pinto, while Sadie's takes third. In the spirit of this category, here are a few tips to really impress those out-of-towners with New Mexican fare. First, order them about four shots of Sauza in a rocks glass and tell them it's Albuquerque's Magical Cactus Extract—a delicacy that must be sampled. Then, tell them to load up their chips with Sadie's salsa, watch them choke up smoke and have 'em wash it down with some more Magical Cactus Extract. Finally, tell them that the restaurant will comp their meal if they do the Mexican hat dance for the other diners. After they're done, tell 'em you were only kidding, and see if they want dessert. Suggest the fried ice cream with extra honey—they've earned it.
Best Restaurant in Albuquerque
On the off chance that you get run out of town by a gang of torch-wielding vigilantes, make sure that you first cruise by Ambrozia in Old Town to sample, among many other things, the gorgonzola cheesecake made by Chef Sam Etheridge and his pirate crew of rule-bending culinarians. In fact, risk the lynching and stop by runners-up Artichoke Café and Graze along the way. It's totally worth it.
Best Restaurant in Santa Fe
What's so special about Geronimo? Well for one, Chef Eric DiStefano is considered legendary among some circles. And, accordingly, the food he creates there is also somewhat of a myth among those who are in the know about gourmet cuisine. And, according to a good friend of ours who ate there not too long ago, the service was the best she has ever received in her life. So, you know, that could have something to do with it.
Best Restaurant in Taos
Joseph Wrede and his ridiculously well-stocked table have dominated this category ever since it was introduced. Go for his acute (or is it obtuse?) culinary philosophy. Go for the fantastic ambiance. Go for the duck fat fries. Just get the hell out of Dodge and get your own table at Joseph's already.
Best Restaurant South of Albuquerque
Owl Café in San Antonio
A short jog to the Butte, a frosty glass of beer and one of the best damn burgers in the whole state can be found just south of Burque in a dusty little town called San Antonio. Order yours with green chile and you may consider moving there.
Best Anything We Forgot
We liked your suggestions the ones for Best Appetizer (you recommended Geckos), Best Breakfast Place (Blue Dragon), Best About Fulfilling Custom Orders (Thai Tip), Best Movie Theater Popcorn (not really a restaurant, but ... OK), Best Onion Rings, Best Rice, Best Shrimp Cocktail and Best Chicken (Churches? Are you serious?).