Almonds—Big or small, everybody loves nuts, and almonds are a particular treat with their warm, rich taste and perfect crunch. Make your own almond butter at Wild Oats (locations at 2103 Carlisle NE, 260-1366; 11015 Menaul NE, 275-6660; and 6300 San Mateo NE, 823-1933) with their cool grinding machine. Taj Mahal (1430 Carlisle NE, 255-1994) offers Middle Eastern delights for your almond-loving pleasure like the Murg Shaan-E-Delhi, chicken curry cooked in almonds, poppy seeds and cream.
Reader Tip: Add a few teaspoons of toasted, crushed almonds to any graham cracker pie crust for a nutty crunch and flavor.
Avocados--Avocados, like tomatoes, are fruits that have found a home among vegetables. The coctel de cameron (shrimp cocktail) at Taqueria Mexico (415 Lomas NE, 242-3445) has meaty slices of avocado, miraculously always served at the apex of ripeness. Across the pond in Vietnam, they blend ripe, fresh avocado with whole milk, sweetened, condensed milk, sugar and ice into a rich, profoundly flavored treat. Avocado milkshakes are available at most Vietnamese restaurants, but they're particularly good at Pho Linh Vietnamese Grill (5000 Central SE, 266-3368).
Reader Tip: Leaving the avocado pit in your guacamole won't keep it any fresher. Covering your bowl tightly with Saran Wrap will.
Barbecue Sauce—The local stuff is always better, so order a case of New Mexico’s Uncle Mabe’s Ruby Red at www.sweatnspice.com. And for that sit-down restaurant experience, Big Mama’s B-B-Que and Soul Food (8922 Central SE, 306-3413) is as authentic as it gets, with co-owner Big Papa Mike making the sauce by hand. Any vegans with soul out there? La Siringitu Café (1501 Mountain NW, 244-9105) is meatless but not sauceless, so tuck into the tofu smothered with hot, smoky goodness.
Reader Tip: When creating your own barbecue sauce, use a pinch of dry mustard powder for a hint of sharpness and warmth that'll keep your guests guessing.
Beans—The musical fruit (actually, a legume) is prevalent here in the 505, but all pintos and refrieds aside, there is a killer bowl of white bean and sage soup at Collectabili Tea (1701 Menaul #C, 884-0505). The local growers’ markets will carry a selection of homegrown beans—wax, green, purple and string, oh my!—depending on the time of year, so check out one like the South Valley Growers' Association (3907 Isleta SW, across from the South Valley Library, 877-4044). The Java Station Roastery (5600 McLeod NE, 1-866-400-JAVA) has a gleaming, beautiful roaster that churns out fresh-roasted, gourmet coffee beans for less than a trip to Starbucks.
Reader Tip: Heat and moisture destroy the integrity of coffee beans. Store in a dark, dry cupboard for up to two weeks, or seal in an airtight container in your freezer for up to two months.
Beer--Nothing speaks to the soul like a cold beer on a hot day. Rio Grande Brewing Company makes a whole line of small-batch brews, but you can only get their rare PBR-style microbrew at Albuquerque Sunport bars. Both the Il Vicino Tap Room (4000 Vassar NE, 830-4629) and Chama River Tap Room (106 Second Street SW, 842-8329) offer beer flights—a small tasting set of several styles of beer at a set price. Knock back a house-brewed beer over dinner at Turtle Mountain Brewing Company in Rio Rancho (3755 Southern SE, 994-9497) or Kelly's BYOB (3222 Central SE, 262-2739). O'Niell's Pub (4310 Central SE, 255-OPUB) always has three or four of its 17 taps devoted to local brews like Tractor Brewing Company's Irish Red. And if you don't drink booze, you might just go for the Route 66 Malt Shop's award-winning homemade root beer instead (1720 Central SW, 242-7866).
Reader Tip: This one's easy—don't get drunk and drive.
Bread and Bagels—ABC Bakery (1830 San Pedro NE, 255-5080) has breads to spare, but try their seasonal hot cross buns--an Easter treat of fruit-studded yeast rolls with an icing cross on the top. Le French Corner (3905 San Mateo NE, 889-3810) has the buttery croissants you want, and for the bread basket of champions, visit the Albuquerque Petroleum Club (500 Marquette NW Ste. 1500, 247-0525) because their little crispy breadsticks baked with bleu cheese are as good as the view. Two of the patron saints of Burque bagels, Wolf’s (6241 Montgomery NE, 342-9828) and New York Style Delicatessen and Café (3115 San Mateo NE, 883-0020), are the best in town when it comes to homemade bagels and schmear.
Reader Tip: Fresh baguettes turn into a crunchy, giant crouton if not used immediately. Extend their lifespan for a few extra hours by storing them in your fridge's vegetable crisper—the veggies will prevent the bread from drying out.
Cake—The colorful beauties at Patisserie C (414 Central SE, 247-3131) are so dangerous, they're only available by appointment. Cakes by Karyn (1100 San Mateo NE Ste. 22, 268-2998) are somewhere between pastry and sculpture, especially when Gustav Klimt's “The Kiss” is reinterpreted in gold fondant and three dimensions of cake. The house-made cupcakes at The Grove Café and Market (600 Central SE, 248-9800) are truly amazing.
Reader Tip: Keep a glass of hot water and a towel nearby when cutting a thick cake. Submerge the knife blade into the hot water and wipe dry every few passes to keep it cutting like butter.
Cheese—Holy mozzarella balls! The Melting Pot (2011 Mountain NW, 843-6358) has a divine new creation called “The Grand Queso,” made with asiago, fontina, chorizo and mascarpone. Where can you find the exotic artisan stuff like Crater Lake bleu cheese, or a creamy French comté? Whole Foods Market (5815 Wyoming NE, 856-0474), of course. Finding Coonridge Dairy’s organic goat cheeses (the yummy jars with the herbs and oil) at retail spots has gotten a bit more difficult, but Downtown Gourmet (900 Central SW, between Park and Ninth Street, 243-2230) has the hookup.
Reader Tip: For a hot cheese appetizer with an “easy button,” buy a round of Camembert cheese in the wooden box. Remove the plastic, rub the rind with a half clove of garlic, poke tiny holes in the rind and drizzle with a few teaspoons of white wine. Bake in the box for 25-30 minutes at 200°F and serve with bread hunks.
Chile--The number of quality chile purveyors in Albuquerque is mind-boggling, but a few innovative products have truly risen to the top of the chile heap. Mountain Sun Foods specializes in 18th-century hacienda foods, and is the only company in the whole world to dehydrate whole New Mexico green chiles. Pick some up at any La Montañita Co-op or Keller's Farm Store. You may have heard that 505 Southwestern's bottled salsas and sauces are award-winning, but did you know they're also organic, kosher, preservative-free and made with local peppers from the Hatch Valley? Stop by 505 Southwestern’s factory and restaurant (3313 Girard NE, 1-888-505-CHILE) for a sample. Last but not least, we love how the new chile salt from Los Chileros (www.loschileros.com) infuses sea salt with the flavor and kick of red peppers and chile.
Reader Tip: Always use surgical or other latex gloves when cutting or deseeding chiles. You won’t run the risk of rubbing the residue into your eyes and other sensitive parts later.
Chocolate—OK, duh, the Chocolate Café and Bakery (2933 Monte Vista NE, 254-0463) comes to mind, because they’ve got more sweet brown goodies than you can shake a chocolate bar at. Other top-notch choco delicacies around Burque and beyond include the fudgy wudgy cake at The East Mountain Grill (150 Hwy. 344 in Edgewood, 281-9111), and for a little bit of white chocolate in your tummy, check out Cake Fetish (2665 Louisiana NE, 883-0670) for goodies that include “Berry White” cupcakes with white chocolate and raspberry. And who could leave out the coffee/mocha creations at Satellite Coffee (several locations including 1642 Alameda NW, 899-1001; and 3513 Central SE, 256-0345).
Reader Tip: Make neat chocolate garnish shavings with a potato peeler and a block of chocolate.
Citrus Fruits—The lemon-chicken dish at Mediterranean Café (513 San Mateo NE, 255-5244) is to die for, and who doesn’t adore the sugary grilled pineapple at Tucanos (110 Central SW, 246-9900)? Local company Cibolo Junction (www.chimayotogo.com) makes a jalapeño-orange marmalade for an unusual bagel smother, and still the best margarita drop zone after all these years, Garduño’s (8806 Fourth Street NW, 505-898-2772) does their “Margarita Madness” Monday-Friday from 3-6 p.m.
Reader Tip: For a killer citrus-baked chicken, place orange, lemon and/or grapefruit halves inside the cavity of whole bird.
Coconut—Tropical shreds, cream or just the precious milk, coconut flavor is big here. For a tour of everything coconut, start with the chocolate coconut layer cake at La Fonda del Bosque (at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, 1701 Fourth Street SW, 247-9480), move on to a coconut boba tea at California Witches (7202 Menaul NE, 884-7202) and keep on moving toward a slice of coconut cream pie at Flying Star (several locations including 4501 Juan Tabo NE, 275-8311).
Reader Tip: Cracking your own coconut is easier than you think. Hold the coconut over a bowl in one hand such that the "midriff" rests in the middle of your palm, with the tip on one end and the eyes on the other. Whack the coconut with the back (that is to say, the blunt side) of the cleaver a few times all around the center until it cracks open cleanly into two nearly equal halves. Make sure you use the blunt side of the cleaver. Catch the juice in the bowl as it drains from the cracks.
Dim Sum—To sum it up, we’ve got some traditional Chinese buns, noodles and egg rolls right here in our desert oasis. Amerasia (301 Cornell SE; 266-8400) has the fastest cart in the city, so keep feet and hands out of the aisles. Ming Dynasty (551 Eubank NE, 296-0298) can also haul out the little plates o’ tasties.
Reader Tip: Be aggressive, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Otherwise, you might starve.
Eggs—The eggs at Sophie's are all organic, so you can feel even better about their eggs Benedict with spicy hollandaise sauce. Gruet Grille (4243 Montgomery NE, 888-7004) has their own egg-on-egg action in the form of deviled eggs with caviar on top, and we think one of the best bowls of egg drop soup around can be attained at Chow’s Chinese Bistro (1950 Juan Tabo NE, 298-3000).
Reader Tip: Is it time to toss the carton? Fresh eggs have tight whites and high, firm yolks. If you crack an egg and the whites spread way out, they're getting past their prime.
Escargot—Le Café Miche (1431 Wyoming NE, 299-6088) has escargot, oui, and Chez Axel (6209 Montgomery NE, 881-8104) wouldn’t be the same without their snails du jour. Gecko’s Bar and Tapas (3500 Central SE, 262-1848) has itsy-bitsy plates of snails for late-night connoisseurs, but if you are a do-it-yourselfer, buy the critters at Fremont’s Fine Foods (1100 San Mateo NE, 792-DINE).
Reader Tip: When broiling escargot, sprinkle bread crumbs at the mouth of the shell to keep the snail moist.
Fish—We may live in a desert, but we still get quality fish flown in daily from the coasts. Nantucket Shoals Seafood Market (5415 Academy NE, 821-5787) is the local mecca for fresh seafood. Heck, you can even buy their house-made fish stocks for soups and stews. The Talin Market (88 Louisiana SE, 268-0206) offers plenty of sea-meat, including sushi-grade salmon and tuna. Los Esquipales (4500 Silver SE, 265-1300) has Corona-battered fish tacos and the tomato-shrimp based seafood soup is up there with food from the Pier in San Francisco. When in doubt, any place with the word “Mariscos” over the door is bound to excite your sense with coastal Mexican fare.
Reader Tip: Sprinkle a little ground coriander and sea salt on fish fillets before you bake them--the slight licorice flavor complements the natural flavor of the fish. Tame a fishy flavor in stews with a small pinch of curry powder.
Fried—You don’t have to wait for the state fair to enjoy some good old-fashioned fried food. Not only do we have all things battered, we have a weird hodgepodge of stuff that doesn’t usually get the hot oil treatment, like the deep-fried artichokes at Café Gee (inside the Atomic Cantina at 315 Gold SW, 242-2200). Walk the plank at Bob’s Fish and Chips (700 Central SE, 243-5936) for some homemade, golden-fried fish fillets, and you can’t deny the ultimate power of the chile-drenched curly fries at Hurricane’s (4330 Lomas NE, 255-4248).
Reader Tip: Frying your candy bars? Coat them in caramel first so that the batter will adhere better.
Garlic—The folks down at Chispas Farm in the South Valley have grown about 52 varieties of garlic this year, from large, creamy bakers, to petite, purple bulbs with a peppery bite. Scoop some up at the Nob Hill Growers' Market (Morningside and Lead, Thursday afternoons through November).
Reader Tip: Bring down garlic's acid bite with a stint in the oven. Lob the top off a whole bulb of garlic, dribble with olive oil and bake in a low oven until soft. Don't mess around with tin foil. The papery skins of the garlic are all the containment you need. To extract the baked cloves, gently squeeze the bulb once cool enough to handle. Spread on crusty bread and kiss your mama.
Goat—You can sometimes find spicy cabrito, or tender young goat, at the snack bar at El Mezquite Market (four locations in Albuquerque; we found some at 201 San Pedro SE). South Mountain Dairy is all about their “girls,” with whom they make fresh, artisanal goat cheese right on the farm. Get goat milk, yogurt, chevre in several flavors, feta and havarti on the farm and at area farmers’ markets (www.lafarmita.com). Zenith African Market (511 San Mateo NE, 792-3221) has frozen goat meat priced at $10.99 for about 2.2 pounds.
Reader Tip: Goat cheeses like feta pair surprisingly well with sweet flavors. Try it in a watermelon salad, drizzled with honey or alongside chocolate.
Hash Browns—Cover them, smother them, drown them in red chile, but they’re all a breakfast needs to be complete. The “bowl o’ stuff” at Weck’s (3913 Louisiana NE, 881-0019) has got ’em, and the Shark Reef Café (at the Albuquerque Biological Park, 2601 Central, 848-7182) has the “potato reef” of hash browns. MSG is the secret ingredient that makes hashbrowns at Frontier (2400 Central SE, 266-0550) so addictive, but you didn’t hear it from us.
Reader Tip: Frying in peanut oil gives hash browns a fabulous flavor.
Ice Cream--Creamland is probably the freshest commercially produced ice cream you can buy in Albuquerque. We're in love with their Extreme Moose Tracks--chocolate ice cream, a hard ribbon of real chocolate fudge and tiny chocolate caps filled with a kinetic chocolate explosion. Despite the sheer junk-food factor, it tastes of fresh milk, sugar and chocolate. Creamland is available at most grocery and convenience stores, or get a broad sampling of Creamland flavors at I Scream Ice Cream (2839 Carlisle NE, 888-9420). If understanding Spanish isn't a problem, La Michoacana de Paquime (6335 Central NW, 831-0652; 6500 Zuni SE, 266-3408) has a truckload of frozen treats like mango and chile paletas or relleno de fresa, a compact bomb of real strawberry flavor enrobed in smooth, frozen cream. Their nieve (ice cream, but literally “snow”) is made in-house and comes in a range of flavors, from traditional cookies and cream to queso fresco piña—cheese and pineapple ice cream.
Reader Tip: If you find you've raced through your cup of ice cream before you leave the store, ask for a tasting spoon or stick. The tiny utensil makes you slow down and savor each bite.
Jerky--One taste of the salt-and-pepper carne seca from Jerky By Art (1701 San Pedro NE, 262-0240) and you'll never go back to Jack Link's candy-sweet, chewy inner tubes of meat again. We've seen brands of other locally produced jerky at the Albuquerque Growers' Market (Saturdays and Tuesdays from 7 a.m. to noon through October in the Caravan East parking lot, 7605 Central NE).
Reader Tip: Skip jerky if it doesn't bear the New Mexico Livestock's inspection seal.
Kimchi—Kimchi is a Korean cold side dish of pickled and fermented vegetables, with a salty, smoky, penetrating heat. The best in town is at Fu Yuang (3107 Eubank NE, 298-8989), or buy a jar for home at 99B Market (5315 Gibson SE, 268-2422).
Reader Tip: Coming down with something? Scientists at Seoul National University report that when fed kimchi, 11 out of 13 infected chickens in a study began recovering from avian bird flu. Scientists are also suggesting that kimchi may help human immune systems fight infection.
Liver—Organ meats should never go to waste. Throw in an onion or so, and people will shovel it like coal. The 66 Diner (1405 Central NE, 247-1421) has a rockin’ liver and onions plate, and Cheese & Coffee (2679 Louisiana NE, 883-1226) has a braunschweiger sandwich with sliced red onions and Dijon mustard.
Reader Tip: Adding dry sherry to liver pâte gives it a nutty, luscious taste.
Mushrooms—Fungi is as tasty as it is conceptually disturbing. Damon’s Fine Cuisine (1435 Eubank NE, 332-9300) has an awesome stuffed Portobello mushroom entrée, and the mushroom stroganoff at Nothing But Noodles (5011 Montgomery NE, 837-2695) is fung-i-licious.
Reader Tip: When using dried mushrooms, use the soaking water in the recipe if you can—it makes for a richer flavor.
Noodles—Here in Albuquerque, restaurants and markets with noodles are as plentiful as tumbleweeds. The pickled greens and pork noodles at Chopstix Chinese Cuisine (6001-L Lomas NE, 268-8777) are a fine dish. Italian noodles are also a must-try, so check out Juliani’s Italian Bistro (2906 Juan Tabo NE #D, 271-5151) or Paisano's (1935 Eubank NE, 298-7541) for saucy housemade fettuccine and spaghetti. A good shop for specialty Asian noodles to prepare at home is A-Ri-Rang Oriental Market (1826 Eubank NE, 255-9634).
Reader Tip: Keep the oil out of your boiling water—stir often and you won’t need it.
Olives—For a dish of briny, powerfully flavored olives, we head straight to The Middle East Bakery (5017 Menaul NE, 883-4537) or Tri-H Convenience Store (225 Yale SE, 765-5999). And you've got to love the fruity and verdant olive oil that Yanni's (3109 Central NE, 268-9250) puts out with their bread basket.
Reader Tip: You can actually deep-fry in olive oil as long as you keep the oil below 375°F. Anything higher and it’ll start smoking, which will make your food taste bad.
Prix Fixe—For the best in complete, multicourse meals at set prices, the more upscale joints like Graze (3128 Central SE, 268-4729) and Café Voila (7600 Jefferson NE, 821-2666) will be glad to accommodate. Bringing the ladies out for tea? The St. James Tea Room (901 Rio Grande NW, 242-3752) is a Mother’s Day hot spot for a fixed bill of fare.
Reader Tip: The price of most prix fixe meals doesn’t include the tip, so make sure you hook up the fine people serving your fancy dinner.
Quinoa—This ancient Incan superfood is similar to cous-cous in flavor and texture but has more complete protein than any other grain known to man. Start your morning off right with a spiced bowl from Annapurna Ayurvedic Cuisine and Chai House (2209 Silver SE, 262-CHAI).
Reader Tip: Quinoa will retain a bitter flavor unless washed with two or three changes of water before cooking.
Rice--We’ve got plenty of rice foods and drinks for the asking in Albuquerque, like the cold, homemade horchata at Rincon del Pollo (9129 Fourth Street NW, 890-5925), the sweet natilla at Eloy’s New Mexican Restaurant (1508-C Wyoming NE at the Belle-Haven shopping center, 293-6018) and the delightful brown rice at 20 Carrots Café (2110 Central SE, 242-1320).
Reader Tip: Japanese sticky rice becomes an exotic dessert when topped with coconut ice cream and roasted peanuts.
Steak—A big, primal piece of beef is a thing of beauty, and Albuquerque can certainly hold its own. Paul’s Monterey Inn (1000 Juan Tabo NE, 294-1461) has the best prime rib this side of Kansas City, and Great American Land and Cattle Co. (1550 Tramway, 292-1510) has a succulent T-bone steak to smack the vegetarian right out of you. Gruet Steakhouse (3201 Central NE, 255-2424) does a petite filet so sumptuous, you’ll be smacking your lips for days after eating it. Doing the grilling yourself? Buy a nice cut of beef or buffalo from Keller’s Farm Stores (2912 Eubank NE, 294-1427). They can even special order a tasty ostrich steak if you call them.
Reader Tip: For an instant steak marinade, mix soy sauce, sherry, red wine vinegar and garlic.
Toast--Java Joe's’ (906 Park SW, 765-1514) house-made whole wheat toast has a hearty texture and savory, nutty flavor. Buster's 66 (3624 Central SE, 232-2787) toasts a mean piece of wheat bread too. They make a terrific pile of banana-stuffed French toast, made with eggy brioche, over at Slate Street Café (515 Slate NW, 243-2210). For an untraditional toast, Thai Basil's “Thai Toast” spreads seasoned, ground chicken between two tortilla-like pieces of bread, deep-fries the whole thing and cuts it into wedges (5201 Fourth Street NW, 341-9094). Yum.
Reader Tip: Slightly toasting tough bread makes it much easier to cut.
Tofu/Tempeh--Meatless doesn’t have to be tasteless, and Kai’s Chinese Restaurant (138 Harvard SE, 266-8388) proves this every day with their bean curd simmered in brown sauce with peas and carrots. The daily tofu scramble at the Mel & Anne Rueckhaus Deli, (5520 Wyoming NE, 332-0565) is good and good for you, and if tempeh’s your thing, have lunch at Relish (411 Central NW, 248-0002), where they can make any sandwich with their signature chipotle-rubbed or soy-balsamic-marinated tempeh.
Reader Tip: Always use firm or extra firm tofu when making tofu scramble at home. The softer stuff will turn into paste.
Vanilla—Forget about the ’90s when every girl you knew was wearing the perfume and get back to the rich filling of a vanilla truffle at Buffett’s Candies (7001 Lomas NE, 265-7731) or Theobroma Chocolatier (12611 Montgomery NE, 293-6545).
Reader Tip: Making vanilla sugar is easy—take a single vanilla bean pod, split it down the middle and place in an airtight container of sugar. It will flavor the entire batch.
Wine—With or without cheese, diners do love their vino. St. Claire Winery (901 Rio Grande NW, 243-9916) has a bevy of managers well-versed in the language of grapes. Some other bubbly-good venues around town are Seasons (2031 Mountain NW, 766-5100) with bar manager Randy to answer any queries, and Ambrozia (108 Rio Grande NW, 242-6560) with bar manager Jamal to recommend a bottle for any occasion. Local favorite Zinc (3009 Central NE, 254-ZINC) does an excellent job of representing wines from near and far, so direct any questions to J.P. or the knowledgeable staff, who are constantly trained on how to serve and sell by the bottle or glass.
Reader Tip: Even though you paid for it, you can’t legally take unfinished bottles of wine with you from restaurants. Instead, send your half-empty bottle back as a gift to the cooks who prepared your meal.
Wasabe—Pungent and hot as all get out, wasabe is like the stinging slap of a dominatrix to the bottom side of your taste buds. Besides the occasional accompaniment to seared tuna dishes on American Bistro menus—like the wasabe mashed potatoes at Standard Diner (320 Central SE, 243-1440)--you'll find it at any Japanese restaurant or sushi bar.
Reader Tip: Contrary to popular American practice, the Japanese don't mix soy sauce and wasabe into a pasty sauce. For the best flavor profile, spread a tiny amount of wasabe onto the fish side of your sushi. Use you fingers to dunk the bundle, fish side-down, into an unadulterated pool of soy sauce.
Yogurt—Who knew that curdled milk could taste so good? Abali or Sadaf Doogh yogurt drinks are convenient, nourishing snacks, available in the refrigerated sections of Café Istanbul (1415 Wyoming NE, 294-9900) and Marco Polo Market (607 San Mateo NE, 255-1325). Adventurous drinkers can even have mint or carbonated yogurt drinks, but we like plain the best. Trader Joe's (at Ventura and Paseo del Norte NE, 796-0311) carries Spega Natura yogurt in flavors like ginger and cinnamon, imported in adorable glass pots from Italy.
Reader Tip: Most flavored yogurts are loaded with crap and don't taste very good. Buy plain yogurt and swirl your favorite jam into it instead.
Zucchini—This stuff was made to be fried and dipped, so check out Geezamboni's Restaurant (3851 Rio Grande NW, 345-3354) or the Monte Carlo Steak House (3916 Central SW, 8312444). The sweet corn and zucchini at Marco Pollo (9880 Montgomery NE, 299-0890) is also an outstanding side dish.
Reader Tip: For fabulous grilled zucchini, cut each one lengthwise and brush with olive oil, then shake on some chopped garlic and a little white wine.