Honestly, the diversity within Albuquerque is the essence of the city, but it can be bewildering for new arrivals. That’s why the Weekly Alibi has compiled this quick and dirty guide to the city’s various neighborhoods, so that even the freshest of UNM freshmen can get an idea of what our city has to offer, no matter where in town you find yourself.
It’s billed as the original Albuquerque, but this ancient Spanish Villa (founded in 1706) wasn't actually incorporated into the city proper until the 1940s. That's just one of the paradoxes of Old Town, a tourist-friendly business district on the one hand, the spiritual and cultural center for one of the city’s oldest populations on the other. It’s a fascinating mix and well worth a visit.
It’s billed as the original Albuquerque, but this ancient Spanish Villa (founded in 1706) wasn't actually incorporated into the city proper until the 1940s. That's just one of the paradoxes of Old Town.
What to do: The most obvious attraction here is the Southwest kitsch for sale at the shops, but there’s plenty to do besides that. You can stop in at Treasure House Books and Gifts and pick up a volume of local history, explore the San Felipe de Neri Church (built in 1793), catch some live music at the Old Town Gazebo and eat some excellent food at the Church Street Cafe or the High Noon Saloon.
Once referred to as "New Albuquerque," this section of our city sprang up when the AT&SF railroad chose to locate its depot some three miles away from the extant Villa de Albuquerque (Old Town). A mostly Anglo group of new arrivals made a lot of money off of the AT&SF's decision, and Albuquerque hasn’t been the same since.
What to do: If you’re a night person, Downtown has a number of bars to choose from, from old standby watering holes like Anodyne to bass-thumping dance clubs like Effex. If you’re more likely to come down during the day, there are a number of restaurants and sandwich shops to choose from—my favorites include Q Burger, Anatolia Doner Kebab and Cecilia’s Cafe—and some interesting cultural sites like the KiMo Theatre (one of the only examples of Pueblo Deco in the world) and the 516 ARTS gallery. On weekends, nearby Robinson Park is host to the Downtown Growers’ Market, a must-go for anybody who likes their veggies fresh and local.
If you’re going to school, chances are this is where you live. It’s an older area, one of the first suburbs to spring up after the railroad came through, and the student “ghetto” is necessarily run-down in the wake of generations of transient undergrads throwing keggers upon keggers.
What to do: It’s a rite of passage for new students to spend hours and hours “studying” at the Frontier Restaurant, and there’s little chance you could escape the block-sized restaurant’s gravitational pull even if you tried. Seek out El Patio for some good enchiladas, Winning Coffee Co. for the local bohemian scene (and damn fine coffee) and the Bricklight Dive for cheap local beer.
EDo presents an interesting case. Originally known as Huning Highlands, the area recently reinvented itself under the trendy portmanteau for East Downtown. Not everyone is thrilled with the name change, but there’s no question the 19th-century Victorian houses that characterize the neighborhood are looking more stately these days, and the old Albuquerque High School makes better high-end condominiums than it did a run-down squatting ground.
One of Albuquerque’s earliest elite neighborhoods, Nob Hill fell on hard times during the late-’70s and ’80s as businesses and the middle class moved out to the Heights. By the late-’90s, however, things were looking up as small businesses flocked back, and it’s been in the swing of a renaissance ever since. With its colorfully painted exteriors and plethora of funky neon signs, it’s a great place to begin your love affair with Albuquerque, and it seems to have a little bit of something for everyone.
Also known as the Fairgrounds District and, insultingly, the War Zone, this part of town seems to be in constant flux. The Fairgrounds themselves are host to a variety of events all year long, including the upcoming State Fair, and there are some truly exquisite examples of classic Route 66 aesthetic to be seen. However, the district is also one of the city’s highest crime areas, with prostitution and drug sales openly taking place in the evenings, so it would behoove you to exercise caution after dark.
What to do: A large Asian population means that there are some of the city’s best Vietnamese restaurants on hand (2000 Vietnam and Cafe Da Lat meriting special mention), as well as a great selection of authentic south-of-the-border Mexican cuisine (try El Zarandeado for some phenomenal mariscos). There’s also Talin Market, a grocery store featuring food from all over Asia and Europe, which hosts a number of the city’s best food trucks every Wednesday at lunchtime.
They’re on opposite sides of the highway, but the Westside and the Northeast Heights share a fair number of similarities. Both are the products of unchecked suburban development, and both are replete with chain stores and national restaurants. But there are some real Burque treasures to look out for in both.
What to do: In the Heights, you’ll find Page One Books, our largest local bookstore, Active Imagination, specializing in family board games and role playing games and Rebel Donut for your funky pastry needs (including “Breaking Bad”-inspired Blue Sky donuts). Dining-wise, you can’t go wrong at Patricia’s Cafe for authentic and spicy northern New Mexican food, India Kitchen (the state’s first Indian restaurant) or Il Vicino for gourmet pizzas.
On the Westside you’ll find Petroglyph National Monument, a volcanic escarpment home to thousands of ancient rock engravings made by the Puebloan people who continue to live in this area. When you get hungry, check out Chow’s Asian Bistro, an Albuquerque standby for Chinese fusion, and Nicky V’s Pizzeria for patio dining.
The Rio Grande languidly flows through these two very different sections of Albuquerque. Once upon a time, the North and South Valleys were quite similar, both home to Spanish settlers who farmed and ranched along the banks of the river. But in the 20th century, they went their separate ways. The North’s many fields were mostly bought up and turned into upscale housing, attracting Albuquerque’s more affluent residents to settle there. The South Valley, however, remains home to a multitude of small farms and ranches, and has a strong identity all its own.
What to do: There are plenty of sites to recommend in both. In the North Valley, you should seek out the Casa Rondeña Winery to sample their many fine varieties in a pastoral Italian villa setting, the Los Poblanos Open Space for bird watching and trails, and the Rio Grande Nature Center to get an up-close look at the riparian ecosystem of the state’s largest river. Farm & Table serves up a menu replete with locally grown ingredients, much of which comes from their own fields, and Sophia’s Place will fulfill your breakfast needs with divinely inspired pancakes and huevos rancheros. Also, for you literary types, Bookworks, one of the last independent bookstores in Albuquerque, always seems to have an author reading or signing happening, from local writers to national celebrities.
In the South Valley, check out the National Hispanic Cultural Center for a number of artistic exhibitions and special events like traditional matachines dancing. Joggers and cyclists will want to take advantage of the trails along the Bosque (forest) by the river. Foodwise, El Modelo and Kathy’s Carry Out both offer excellent New Mexican food, and Pop Fizz dispenses a variety of frozen treats, from paletas to ice cream.