Gold Street Caffé
Why bacon? Because it exemplifies everything we love about food. Bacon ties us to our foodie forebears who cured and smoked pork belly to preserve it in the absence of refrigeration. Highly prized artisanal bacons keep alive rural American traditions and ensure smokehouse knowledge will be shared with future generations of proud farmers. Bacon provides our children with essential nutrients like saturated fat, salt and nitrates. Wait ... those things aren't good. Uh ... if we don't stand together, resolute, in support of bacon, cultivating a culture of pork, the entire fabric of our society will come apart at the seams. So eat more bacon or the terrorists win! If you don't consume your daily ration of red chile and honey bacon at Gold Street, then you'd better be ordering up thick slabs at Frontier, The Range Café, Weck's or Flying Star.
Rudy's Country Store and Bar-B-Que
Rudy's can rock you in a variety of ways, as in chicken, pork and beef, ribs, brisket (a few extra ducats for the extra lean is well worth it), trout and tenderloin. Just to make sure you feel at home in the Griswold kind of way, the bread forms to your fingers, Roman Meal-style. Powdrell's and Quarters are some serious standouts as well, and the best way to keep your open pit barbecue love fest going is to hit ’em all, often. Nothin' like a spread of take-out to go with that satellite dish NFL ticket.
This Land of Enchantment favorite (75 locations throughout the state) is no longer owned by New Mexicans, but readers say (and we agree) they still grill up a tasty burger. Second place went to the juicy beef options at O'Niell's Pub. Fuddrucker's, Bob's Burgers (oh, Ranchero burger!) Burger Boy (home of the ostrich burger) and Rex's all received multiple votes. Burger-specific votes singled out the double patty, bacon, cheese and chile “cuca burger” at Kathy's and the tempeh burger at Flying Star.
Best Veggie Burger
Some of you may ask yourselves, why bother trying to make soy protein look or taste like meat? Well sometimes the meat-free folks get tired of lettuce, tomato and sprout sandwiches slathered with soy mayo. They want something substantial, toothsome, savory and satisfying. Do they secretly desire meat? Certainly not. They want something like meat but guilt free, like the earthy veggie burgers at Flying Star. O'Niell's and Model Pharmacy racked up a few votes as well. DIY vegetarians responded with “Morningstar Farms—cook it yourself!” Some folks think veggie burgers are for girlie-men only, but guess what cowboy? Rumor has it Arnold himself is a fan. Hit anyone of these fine establishments and you can honor both your colon and tastebuds with a delicious and healthy alternative to the red-blooded variety.
Best Chicken Fried Steak
Those who like their meat breaded and deep-fried head to 66 Diner for the button-buster of a chicken fried steak meal. Honestly, we think it's those tasty, skin-on mashed potatoes on the side that send this one into the “win” category. The whole damn package is irresistible. Votes also piled up for Grandy's, Great American Land and Cattle and Murphy's Mule Barn (the North Valley institution that consistently violates the “never eat anything larger than your head” rule).
Best Green Chile Cheese Fries
If Bob's green chile cheese fries ever earn a mention in Webster's dictionary it ought to say: n., tongue stinging, eye-watering, nasal dripping, tasty hot flavor of Albuquerque! Because if there's one guarantee at Bob's, it's that the chile is hot, the fries are crispy and wussies will just have to suffer. We also love the heaping mound of smothered curly fries at Hurricane's, and the kinder, gentler offering from O'Niell's Pub. We know several people who go to 66 Diner just for the chile cheese fries.
Best Ice Cream
Cold Stone Creamery
They say you eat with your eyes first, and Cold Stone is no exception. Half of the fun of eating there is watching the Cold crew custom-blend our orders before our very eyes. The other half is eating what amounts to three full Snickers bars held together with a wisp of fat-free ice cream. Yum! We also get whipped into a frozen frenzy at the new Ben & Jerry's Scoop Shops around town. We have no interest in overweight life-mates, but we definitely can't get enough Chubby Hubby. (Keep your eyes peeled for the first Santa Fe store, which is slated to shack up in the Plaza.) New Mexico's own Taos Cow is a popular dessert at local eateries, where it's delicious dressed up or naked. There were lots of votes for house-made ice creams at Jennifer James, Graze and NYPD, and the Scotti Gelati offerings at Dos Hermanos (San Mateo and Cutler).
We didn't think anybody's “milkshake” was as popular as our food editor's but apparently she'll have to concede victory to 66 Diner. Old Town's pint-size Route 66 Malt Shop managed to steal a fair number of votes from the much better known 66 Diner. Maybe it's partly due to their killer root bear float, made with a special in-house brew. Model Pharmacy's old fashioned soda fountain and the retro menu at Owl Café are also popular among lactose-lovers. The Range and Rex's got special mention for their addictive cinnamon and peanut butter concoctions, respectively.
Best Juice Bar
There's nothing like a daily fresh fruit smoothie to keep the colon happy and elevate your antioxidant levels to fight off those nagging winter time colds. Keva's got a wide selection and clean atmosphere while Zeus Juice includes a free “booster” that'll supposedly enhance everything from your memory to your sex drive. And it's always a good idea to hit the Wild Oats juice bar for a healthy beverage before you go shopping, or 20 Carrots for a pre-class pick-me-up. No matter where we go, we love the half-chewed-cud flavor of a wheatgrass shot!
Best Chili Dog
The Dog House
We predict this downtown landmark will continue to claim the “Best Chili Dog” prize so long as that neon wiener dog on the roof keeps munching his unending string of glowing hot dogs. As a bonus, at the Dog House you get to eat in your car, ensuring that the tangy chili smell sticks with you all day. Mmm ... beefy fresh. According to readers, Top Dog and Bob's Burgers also smother a mean wiener. Oh, how we love wieners!
All right, let's be honest. Starbucks has great coffee. That said, there are plenty of other great places in town that know how to brew a grade A prime cuppa joe. Flying Star and its satellite branch—conveniently called Satellite—got just slightly fewer votes than the evil coffee empire everyone loves to hate. Other great local coffee hawkers included Winnings and Irysh Mac's, both staples of the university area, and the comfy hippie haven known as the Blue Dragon Coffee House.
Best Chips and Salsa
Real homemade chips and salsa are a treat at so many of our great, locally owned restaurants that it's hard to shorten this list to a manageable five. And to think, people in other parts of the country actually think “chips and salsa” is synonymous with Tostitos and Pace. Those poor, pasty people have never known the joy of fresh-fried chips and made-this-morning salsa with ... oooh ... chile! Sadie's salsa is an institution—has been for years—and it's no wonder they take the top spot. Los Cuates' totally unique salsa, a decidedly smooth purée of slightly sweet red chile, continues to mesmerize chile lovers while the long list of salsa options wows diners at Maximito's. For those of you who just can't get enough salsa, readers also suggest the Los Cuates spinoff Dos Amigos and downtown destination Taquería Mexico.
Best Huevos Rancheros
“Oh my lord, Garcia's!” wrote one pollee, summarizing the opinions that drove Garcia's to victory. If there was ever an act of culinary perfection performed in New Mexico, it had to be the first time somebody decided to slap a couple of eggs on a corn tortilla and smother it in cheese and chile. Hallelujah! The steaming chile at Frontier, velvety red chile at Barelas Coffee House and corn tortilla-free huevos at Duran's Central Pharmacy made them all very popular this year. The Range Café somehow gets away with using blue corn tortillas, white cheddar and serving range fries and pintos with the huevos— for seven bucks. How do they do that?
This delicious blend of chocolate, red chile and other spices is puro mexicano, and not something you'll find in many New Mexican eateries. We put the category on this year's poll because so many readers had asked us for suggestions. Frustrated with our lack of knowledge, we put it to you and you told us to try the mole at El Norteño. Actually, we've had it and the stuff is great. For a good comparison, check out Bandito Hideout, El Sabor de Juarez and Maximito's.
Best Carne Adovada
Frontier and Golden Pride
It's simple, see, you take a nice, fat piece of juicy pork butt and slowly cook it in a pot of chile until the sweet, smoky red chile flavor permeates nearly to the center of the meat. Pork and chile. Chile and pork. How could one possibly not improve the taste of the other? Yet making carne adovada is an art form. The meat must cook long enough to absorb the chile flavor but not so long that the pork dries out. You could say that Frontier and Golden Pride have an unfair advantage in this category, since though they're tied for first, both restaurants (which share owners) serve the same addictively spicy stuff. Then again, the stuff tastes great no matter what. Apparently good adovada comes in twos, because there's also a tie for second: Downtown newcomer Carlito's and North Valley institution Sadie's.
Barelas Coffee House
A hot, steaming bowl of posole is like chicken soup for the New Mexico soul. Burqueños line up for the stuff at Barelas, but if the wait's too long they head over to Garduño's instead. Third place goes to Pueblo Harvest Café at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, where locals also fill up on mutton stew and blue corn pancakes. A lone vote for “my mamacita” doesn't exactly qualify, but we couldn't agree more.
Best Biscuits and Gravy
The Range Café
Honestly, you could cover those fist-sized hunks of biscuit in Elmer's Glue and they'd still be incredible. Even so, we're glad they come swimming in our choice of finger-licking gravy or velvety queso. Mannie's and Weck's tied for second, both with mammoth, tasty meals for cheap. The big biscuits and cream gravy at Murphy's Mule Barn are not for the faint of heart—literally. People with heart conditions should stay far away from anything that calls for leftover bits of bacon and/or sausage as a main ingredient. Those wicked boys at Ambrozia have been known to use foie gras in their gravy to devastating effect.
Lots of people think of tamales as a cold weather treat. They can be very heavy and quite filling; they're also traditional at Christmas. But we see people walking out of El Modelo, tamales in hand, through the hottest months of the year. And that is a testament to just how tasty these meat- and chile-filled masa logs are. Don't wait until the first sign of snow to try the tamales at Acapulco Tacos and Burritos or Dos Hermanos.
Best Fish Tacos
Think there's no such thing as great fish tacos outside of coastal Mexico or Southern California? Go ahead! More tacos for us. We love to take a break from regular tacos and wrap up hunks of grilled or fried white fish in soft corn tortillas. If we're not over on Zuni scarfing them at El Norteño, then we might run up to Sofia's (formerly Fajitaville) in the North Valley. Westsiders know the wonders of Mariscos Alta Mar and Heights dwellers have the best access to newly opened Food Bungalow. Meanwhile, hungry taco lovers come from all over the city for the all-night drive-thru at Los Betos
Best Green Chile
Where would we be without green chile? It's too terrifying even to consider. If forced to choose one or the other, how many New Mexicans would choose chile over sex ? Too frightening to imagine. We love both but we've learned from experience never to mix the two. Never. We like to fill up on a big bowl of green chile stew from Frontier for pre-date fortitude. Sometimes, to spice it up a bit, we'll check out the fire roasted green at El Patio, Garcia's Kitchen, Sadie's and Monroe's.
Best Red Chile
It is always the case that green chile is a less competitive category than red. The fact is that green chile is at its absolute peak when simply pulled off the plant, roasted, peeled and devoured. Sure, you can make it into an elaborate sauce with garlic and a little ground oregano, but why waste time? We eat it right out of the bag on the way home from the store! The preparation of red chile, on the other hand, takes a certain amount of skill. Every cook has his own tricks (use beef stock!) and techniques (submersible blender!) and there will always be those who throw in a little something different (is that honey?). This year's votes were all over the place and though Los Cuates pulled out ahead of the pack, Barelas Coffee House, Mary and Tito's, Garcia's Kitchen, Padillas and Carlito's were all neck and neck right up to the finish line.
It is a curious fact of culinary life in New Mexico that we eat relatively few burritos. Breakfast burritos: Yes, we consume them by the bajillion. Regular old meat and beans and cheese burritos: Not as popular. Here in the Rio Grande Valley, enchiladas are more our style. So Dos Hermanos must be doing something right by attracting such a loyal following. Could it be because their burritos are each roughly the size of the Hindenburg? That picky eaters love the choices (from calabacitas to roast beef or chicharrones)? Because they cost about as much as a cup of coffee at Starbucks? Who cares. Keep eating.
Ah, those heavenly, light, fluffy platters of love. The Frontier tortilla won this category by a landslide. And, really, why shouldn't it? The universal consensus is they're the yummiest in town. You can either order them with your meal, or buy a dozen, hot off the famous Frontier tortilla machine, to take home with you. And unlike many store-bought tortillas, Frontier flatbreads seem to stay fluffy in the fridge. Other tortilla specialists that got well-deserved nods included Duran's Central Pharmacy, Garcia's and the Albuquerque Tortilla Co.
Best Indian Taco
Indian Village at the State Fair
We all seem to associate Indian tacos with the State Fair (and maybe since the fair was happening during balloting, it was still fresh in your minds.) But after September, you can still get these delights at the Pueblo Harvest Café in the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. Or check out La Hacienda Express and Monica's El Portal, both well endowed in the fry bread department.
Best Bar Food
Sadly, O'Niell's Pub in Nob Hill will be losing its lease in December. Nostalgic fans have until New Year's Eve to gorge themselves on such pub grub favorites as burgers, fish and chips and the ever-popular “weird sandwich of the day.” Martini Grille (with those oh-so-scarfable Martini fries) and Monte Vista Fire Station (with irresistible nightly food specials) are two places we'll be frequenting a lot more often after O'Niell's goes.
Sushi restaurants are on a sharp rise in Albuquerque, and fresh fish fans are defending their old favorites with a fervor. Emerging from this hard-fought battle is our new champ, Japanese Kitchen. This midtown fave wins for its classy “businessman's lunch” atmosphere and for the fact that the showy teppan tables are relegated to an entire separate restaurant across the Park Square Plaza, leaving sushi lovers to indulge their taste buds without fear of getting hit by a flying shrimp. Samurai Grill and Taka Sushi tied for second, while Mr. Sushi and Sushi King tied for third.
Best Breakfast Burrito
Slip in at 1:45 a.m., just before the bars let out and the place gets mobbed by cheerful, loudmouthed inebriates. There's nothing better than a Frontier breakfast burrito in the wee hours to pick up your spirits after a long evening of loud music, beer and illicit cigarettes. Really, though, these little models of engineering perfection—combining the ideal quantities of green chile, cheese, eggs, potatoes and optional bacon—are delicious any time of the day or night. Frontier's sister restaurant Golden Pride came in close second with their smaller, handheld version of the breakfast burrito (go for #9 with bacon and green chile or #2 with adovada). Of course, one thing our town knows how to do right is breakfast burritos. Other killer breakfast bites are found at Dos Hermanos and La Hacienda Express. Our veggie readers groove on the tasty tofu-filled burritos at Java Joe's and Flying Star.
Best Basket Full of Bread
Screw you, Dr. Atkins! The pre-dinner basket of carbs is here to stay, come butter, margarine or heart healthy oil-based dippin' sauce. Alibi readers like the assortment of sweet and savory house-made breads they get gratis at EDO's Artichoke Café. Don't bother saving room for veggies at Le Café Miche, go ahead and fill up on their hot, crusty rolls. For a different kind of carb-loading, try the thick, chewy flatbread from Yanni's, the whole wheat sopaipillas at Ortega's and the mini bread loaves at Paul's Monterey Inn.
If you're on a diet, it might be best if you didn't eat at Flying Star. Or walk past the front window. Or think about it, even. The long pastry case full of chocolate eclairs, bear claws and triple fudge cakes is simply too tempting. But according to our readers, no matter what the dessert is, they'll love it if you serve it with ice cream. There were lots of specific votes for the baklava sundae at Yanni's, tarte Tatin with cinnamon ice cream at the Range Café, fried ice cream at Garduño's and apple pie a la mode at Christy May's.
Local chain Dion's wins with its convenience (10 locations!), its longevity (since 1978) and its fresh-baked pies. Recently added “gourmet” pies (the Kansas City has chicken, provolone and barbecue sauce) have helped fend off competition from fancier pizza joints. The tough-to-unseat-winner was followed by, in order of preference: Saggio's, Il Vicino, Giovanni's (try the white pizza, it's heart-stoppingly delicious), Pudge Brothers, NYPD, Scarpa's, Village Pizza, Venezia's, Turtle Mountain and Trail Rider. Oh, and Domino's got two votes.
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