Want some secret recipe chile? Say "Uncle."
How does it feel to get exactly what you want? Imagine a huge oval platter heaped high with a smokin'-hot cheese enchilada, a moist tamale stuffed tighter than a Christmas goose with shreds of spicy meat, a crisp, beefy taco and refried beans whipped to perfection. Now, imagine everything slathered in a thick, deep red chile sauce and sprinkled with cool bits of lettuce and tomato.
Albuquerque diners—meet Oscar Calderon.
Oscar is the proprietor of the budding eight-month-old New Mexican restaurant Tio Oscar's, located at Fourth Street and Montaño. The food is all local favorite dishes and the service is every bit as fun as the eating.
I snuck in about an hour before close, and I was greeted with a basket of chips and salsa, and a fine comedy show courtesy of Maria and Diane, waitresses extraordinaire. I had barely ordered before I was outed as a reviewer, and Maria wasted no time in showing off the place's best asset.
"Watcha' writing?" she asked, leaning over my shoulder.
"Notes about you guys," I replied.
"Make sure that you put down there that the waitress is beauuuteeful," she said.
I got a feeling of family and closeness from the staff that you only usually get from, well, family.
"Most of our customers are regulars," remarked Calderon.
All families have their moments, and Maria's adorably candid nature proves that a little lovin' also comes with a hint of the other stuff.
"Oscar's a cool boss—he's an asshole sometimes, but mostly he's cool," she said with a chuckle.
My dinner wasn't long in coming, and I was quite mesmerized by the red chile on my combination plate ($8.50). Rich, thick and dark crimson-colored, the sauce was hot as the desert we live in. It covered my entrée all the way to the edges of the plate. The relleno was perfectly crisp and smothered in a homemade green chile sauce that I could see was flecked with those little black roasted spots.
The best part of my supper came after my doggie bag was loaded and I had a chance to talk to the owner himself.
Up-and-coming entrepreneurs, meet Oscar Calderon.
He is legally blind, but that hasn't stopped him from achieving his goals. It hasn't even slowed him down. With a culinary education from TVI, assistance from the New Mexico Commission for the Blind and help from family and friends, Calderon realized his dream of owning and operating his own eatery.
He planned the menu himself, runs the kitchen and even designed the unique Tio Oscar's logo from his family coat of arms, which is a red and gold shield embossed with tiny caldrons.
Calderon is a very sharing person—at least until you ask him about his recipes. He won't budge on the 411 concerning his chile or carne adovada, but that may be part of his charm.
"He's single, too," Maria disclosed with a grin.
Albuquerque ladies, meet Oscar Calderon.
Apparently, this thirtysomething uncle of 19 nieces and nephews is quite a catch; after all, who wouldn't want a dish that cooks?
Tio Oscar's has huevos rancheros for breakfast, stuffed sopaipillas for lunch and dinner wouldn't be complete without their house specialty dessert: the bizcochito ice cream sundae. This creation is a masterpiece of deep-fried flour tortilla and cinnamon-sugar wrapped around vanilla ice cream, then layered with caramel, piñon, whipped cream and fresh baked bizcochitos.
A tasty treat indeed, but the sweetest thing of all might just be Maria the waitress.
"If anyone wants my autograph, I'll be here," she stated with a Hollywood pose.
The Alibi Recommends:
Chile con queso
Bizcochito ice cream sundae
Tio Oscar's Restaurant, 5333 Fourth Street NW, 342-1334. Hours: Mon. thru Thurs. 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Price range: Inexpensive. No smoking, credit cards accepted, catering, large parties. Red or green chile to-go by the side, pint or quart.