Korean BBQ House
Our former Korean intern, Soobin, says that Albuquerque has a small handful of very high quality authentic Korean restaurants. We knew we liked these places, but we like having her stamp of approval. There might not be many places to get beef bulgogi, but there are plenty enough to crush your craving for the least conventional Asian ethnic cuisine. Korean BBQ House tied for first place last year; this time it edged out all competitors. According to this year's voters (and Soobin) you should absolutely check out Taeja, Fu Yuang and Yen Ching.
Tie: Olympia Café and Yanni's
An interesting turn of events in the Greek category: Last year the University area's Olympia held firm in the top spot, with Yanni's trailing close behind. But Yanni's expansion with the Opa! Bar has proven popular enough to secure its place as a true Nob Hill favorite. The Northeast Height's elegant but affordable Mykonos came in second place, and fast and casual Gyros rounds out the set with their big fat Greek sandwiches.
Best Steakhouse/Red Meat Establishment
Great American Land and Cattle Co.
Meat, oh, meat, how we love your juices running down our greasy chins. Sometimes like to throw down on a Flintstone-sized ribeye at Great American Land and Cattle, but sometimes we like to just drop in and pick up a raw steak to go (they sell several cuts) so that we can enjoy the carnivorous pleasure in the privacy of our own homes. Paul's Monterey Inn is dark enough so that most people won't be able to tell that your porterhouse has smeared lipstick all over your face. At Ranchers Club, the expertly trained waitstaff will turn a blind eye as you abandon all table manners to tear into a tenderloin. At the Monte Carlo Steakhouse you can satisfy your urges for meat, booze and smokes in one quick trip. Tucanos is the place to go when it's all-you-can-eat or nothing.
Why do we have a category for Best Japanese and one for Best Sushi? Because some people love Japanese food but want more than sushi. They want bowls of buckwheat noodles, tempura vegetables and maybe something for the kids to eat, too. Except for Noda's, all the mentions in this category offer teppan tables where participants can watch chefs put on a flashy show. These places represent the perfect compromise for the couple or family who can never agree on where to go. Japanese Kitchen's brilliant strategy is to separate into two distinct restaurants across the courtyard from one another. One focuses on beautiful sushi and the other caters to families with popular teppan tables. Samurai Grill and Noda's in Rio Rancho both have lots of fans, too.
Best Middle Eastern
A perpetual favorite with a lavish decor that practically transports you to the Middle East, Pars' food is both exotic and approachable, with simply spiced grilled meats and an array of appetizers that will thrill the adventurous eater. Yasmine's, a modest and unpretentious new restaurant in the University area, made a strong showing this year with outstanding food, very reasonable prices and a perfect location. The Heights' Café Istanbul earns an honorable mention.
Best New Mexican
Barelas Coffee House
Here's something interesting to consider: With the number of New Mexican food categories that Frontier wins in an average year (for tortillas, green chile, adovada, huevos rancheros etc.) it's amazing that nobody ever votes for it in the Best New Mexican category. Maybe it's because Frontier is more than just New Mexican or because the place doesn't have the mom 'n' pop feel that we're accustomed to. Barelas Coffee House, this year's winner, regularly wins awards for their menu items, has an extremely loyal following and has been enjoying renewed attention since the opening of the nearby National Hispanic Cultural Center. When the weather's nice you can sit in the courtyard; otherwise they'll find you a table in one of the rooms of the old house or its addition. Alibi readers also get giddy over the New Mexican grub at Barelas neighbor El Modelo, the ever-popular Los Cuates, Monroe's and Garcia's Kitchen.
Yes, El Norteño wins again. This much-loved Mexican destination on Zuni wins our hearts with authentic food, colorful atmosphere and genuinely friendly service. And the food! Readers obviously love their fish tacos and mole, but the menu is full of unusual and favorite dishes. Second place was taken by Taquería Mexico, the first time this little downtown joint has placed in the poll. Other popular Mexican joints include El Sabor de Juarez, a perennial favorite near Kirtland Air Force Base; Maximito's on South Broadway; and the Westside's Mariscos Alta Mar.
It often seems that Albuquerque suffers from a shortage of Italian restaurants. To be sure, there's always room for more when it comes to good food. But the city does have a handful of authentic, meatballs-and-lasagne, red and white checkered tablecloth restaurants where pasta lovers can go to unwind over a bowl of linguine. This year's winner, Mario's, is just that sort of place. Other votes came in for Mimmo's and Venezia's on the Westside, Al Vincenzo's and Trattoria Trombino in the Northeast Heights, and Vivace and Scalo in Nob Hill (even though Scalo gave up its Italian theme over a year ago).
After years of stability in our Indian Food scene, this past year has brought a bit of a shakeup. The Westside gained its own India Palace on Alameda (near Corrales Road), within sight of the only other Indian restaurant over there, Bombay Grill, also brand new. Perhaps starved Westsiders contributed to India Palace's catapult to first over longtime first place winner, Taj Majal. Both India Palace locations offer beautiful and delicious food with excellent service. India Kitchen, with its homey decor and extensive vegetarian options, came in third.
Chow's Chinese Bistro
Chow's serves Chinese food for people who say Albuquerque doesn't have any good Chinese restaurants: It's lighter, brighter and more adventurous than your standard deep-fried fare. The folks at Chow's just try harder and it shows. Honorable mentions for ABC Chinese, Kai's Kung Fu Café (we hear they've dropped the Kung Fu but we still call it that anyway), Ho Lo Ma and Great China.
With a bold mural-covered dining room, warm wait staff and dishes garnished with fresh orchids (or at least cool plastic ones), Nob Hill's Orchid Thai has become the city's favorite after only two years. The always-busy Siam Café may lack Orchid's charming dining room, but this second-place winner makes up for it with addictive curries that keep you coming back for more. Bangkok Café, Thai Ginger, Teriyaki Queen and Thai Cuisine; and the delightful new Krung Thai were also often mentioned. Our two newest Thai restaurants, Thai Basil (Fourth Street north of Griegos) and Thai Tip (Wyoming and Constitution) opened just as polling began and didn't have a chance to garner very many votes but we're eager to see how Thai food fans take to them. Will there be an upset next year?
When we think “American” we think unfussy, unpretentious but not necessarily unremarkable. 66 Diner's pileup, a messy heap of meat, potatoes, chile and cheese, is perfectly American and perfectly unique, especially when followed by a tall grasshopper shake and a piece of pumpkin pie. Similarly familiar and comforting places like Hurricane's, The Range Café and The Owl Café also earned a lot of votes. But right up there with them were a few American restaurants, Seasons, Ambrozia, Zinc and Graze, that are often described as New American. You know the kind of place; they serve meatloaf but it's made with wild boar or veal and your wife will kick you in the shin if you ask what kind of gravy it comes with, because at a New American restaurant it's called demi-glace.
Best Restaurant for Vegetarians
Annapurna Chai House
Options for vegetarians got a lot better this year, with Annapurna adding a second location in the Northeast Heights (though they did close the original restaurant on San Mateo). These Ayurvedic-themed cafés are a haven for vegetarians, and especially vegans, who are looking for a completely meat-free dining experience and the company of like-minded souls. Vegetarian connoisseurs also appreciate the offerings at Flying Star Cafés, Graze, and La Siringitu, a tiny but totally vegetarian eatery in an old adobe house near Old Town.
Best Sandwich Place
Relish Cheese Market and Sandwich Shop
By providing a different kind of sandwich place, a not haughty but certainly not humble haven for the cheese and meat and bread-obsessed, Relish has filled a gaping hole in Albuquerque's food scene. Before Relish, it was frustratingly difficult to get homemade fresh mozzarella, sprigs of arugula and heirloom tomatoes wedged inside a crusty Alpinette roll. Even now, nowhere but here can you find smoked turkey together with Havarti, apple butter and shaved fennel. And for that, Duke City diners are grateful and they voted en masse to proclaim Relish the Best Sandwich Place. Nobody else even came close.
Le Café Miche
The funny thing is that Le Café Miche isn't even strictly French. Sure you can get a little plate full of snails (er, escargots) swimming in Pernod butter, followed by a bite of pan-seared foie gras sprinkled with a truffled demi-glace—but the duck à l'orange comes with a side of spaetzle and the tuna tartare is tossed with a ginger-soy vinaigrette. It's French but it's adventurous, the atmosphere is elegant but relaxed and the staff never fails to go above and beyond the call of duty. Voters also love the exquisite pastries and hearty sandwiches at Le French Corner, the very authentic French bistro fare at Café Voilà, and the romantic ambiance of La Crêpe Michel.
Café Dalat's win in this year's poll surprised even us, and we love the place! It's just that Dalat always seemed like one of those precious but painfully undiscovered gems that comes into town, wows serious food fans but fails to ignite the passions of the masses and then closes one day, leaving us devastated. We're thrilled that this little family-run restaurant, which seems rather bland from the outside but is actually quite snazzy inside, has finally achieved the credit it deserves. That being said, the race was close and runners up May Café, Que Huong, Huong Thao and Saigon Café (the one on San Mateo, near I Love Sushi) all pulled in a lot of votes.
Best Other Ethnic
Every year there are a few ethnic food categories that don't make it into the poll, usually because that type of cuisine is so underrepresented here that there's not enough competition to justify voting. That's true of our only Jamaican joint, the popular Jamaica Jamaica, Albuquerque's only Brazilian churrascería, Tucanos, and the late, great Afghan eatery Tora Bora House. Several people suggested that we bring back the Best Asian category for the pan-Asian Nouveau Noodles. Cajun Kitchen, Ragin' Shrimp, Copleand's and Pappadeaux were all named as potential contestants in a Cajun battle.