alibi online
2014 Best of Burque RestaurantsFree Will AstrologyAlibi's Personals
 
 V.17 No.11 | March 13 - 19, 2008 

Restaurant Review

Empire Burritos and Santa Fe Peppers

Where burritos come smothered in déjà vu

In this case, an "Empire" steak burrito ($5.85) comes stuffed with lean brisket, brown rice, black beans, corn-and-jalapeño salsa, sour cream and cheese.
Tina Larkin
In this case, an "Empire" steak burrito ($5.85) comes stuffed with lean brisket, brown rice, black beans, corn-and-jalapeño salsa, sour cream and cheese.

By and large, I’m not a fan of chain restaurants. I just can’t get onboard with corporate-formulated burgers and pasteurized food “experiences.” But there are exceptions. Sometimes a chain comes along that serves genuinely good eats you can’t find in every other joint on the block. Chipotle, for example, has long been my go-to burrito place when I’m craving something other than a pulverized pinto mash-up. More than once I’ve thought it’s too bad Albuquerque doesn’t have one.

Then my inbox began filling with gentle suggestions, and eventually adamant urgings, to drop in on Empire Burritos and Santa Fe Peppers. According to reader Briana Coyne, “Frito pie is not the panacea for hunger, Santa Fe Peppers is.”

Clifton "Mr. Pickles" Callicotte and Roger "Pops" Callicotte (shown at their I-25 and Jefferson location) are the owners of Empire Burritos and Santa Fe Peppers.
Tina Larkin
Clifton "Mr. Pickles" Callicotte and Roger "Pops" Callicotte (shown at their I-25 and Jefferson location) are the owners of Empire Burritos and Santa Fe Peppers.

Well, ya’ll said jump, so I did.

Just to clarify things, Empire Burritos and Santa Fe Peppers have the same owner and menus, but two names, three locations and three different sets of operating hours. That one threw me for a loop, too. With three locationstwo Empires and one Santa Fe Peppersthese guys are technically a chain, albeit a local one.

I’m going to get the negative stuff out the way first. Damn near everything about Empire/Peppers reminded me of Chipotle. Contemporary-loftish-industrial décor, simple menu, order-pay-eat service and even T-shirts for sale with irreverent sayings like “Burritos so good they’re gooder” or “Mommy, where do burritos come from?” smacked of that national tortilla hangout. Imitation may be the most sincere form of flattery, but this place was like Coming to America’s McDowell’s.

The similarities continued as I made my way down the line, mostly in the bean, rice and salsa choices. Black or pinto, white or brown; these burritos are constructed exactly like Chipotle’s.

Now, I know this style of burrito is not owned by Chipotle, nor did they do it first. But it’s the combination of things: atmosphere, attitude and product. I have to admit, though, the food stands on its ownfor the most part, anyway.

Imitation may be the most sincere form of flattery, but this place was like Coming to America’s McDowell’s.

All ingredients are prepared freshno vacuum-packed poultry or flaky dehydrated beans. Everything is cooked from its natural state onsite.

The menu consists of burritos, tacos, bowls, nachos and quesadillas. All are available with the same formula: meat, rice, beans, veggies, salsa, guacamole and sour cream. Simply choose your meat, bean, rice and salsa and they wrap it up for you in a flour tortilla (albeit an unremarkable one).

Chicken and steak can be ordered grilled or chipotle-roasted "Empire"-style. Of the two, the Empire is a clear winner. Loaded with flavor, chipotle adds a smoky complexity to the otherwise plain meats.

A big surprise comes in the form of the vegetarian burrito. I'm an unabashed carnivore, but I do enjoy soil-dependent life-forms. With a spicy pepper-and-onion mix and all the trimmings, there was no love lost for the missing meat. Black beansand I recommend always going that route, as the pinto beans fell flatbrown rice and every Southwestern condiment on the menu come together in a crisp and refreshing hand roll that would make PETA proud.

A tilapia burrito doesn’t fare as well. Normally mild to to the point of veering toward bland, the fish I was served had a strong fishy flavor that couldn’t even be disguised by a combination of all five salsas. In case you’re wondering, that fishy flavor is a result of decomposition. As amino acids accumulate and break down, an unpleasant murky flavor develops. A general rule is that the higher the fat content, the more amino acids. Add time out of water and you have a stinky fish. Tilapia, largely a freshwater fish with low amino acid content, takes a while to get to the funky point.

On a lighter note, all of their salsas are great. The tomatillo salsa stands out with sweetness balanced by slight tartness. Another favorite is the sweet corn-and-jalapeño salsa, where cilantro and a hint of smoke make for an intricate and lively concoction.

What can I say? It’s no Chipotle. I feel a little dirty admitting it, but this is the first time I’ve favored a big business over a little guy. That said, Empire Burritos/Santa Fe Peppers is good enough to merit my recommendation. They're homegrown alternatives to an alarming dearth of fresh ingredients in the burrito biz. But if a shiny new Chipotle opened up, I’d probably eat there first.

The Alibi recommends:

Empire chicken burrito

Vegetarian burrito

Any salsa

Santa Fe Peppers: 4320 The 25 Way NE, Suite 500, 344-7200. Hours: Mon-Fri 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Closed weekends.

Empire Burritos: 9401 Golf Course NW, 899-5288. Hours: Mon-Fri 8 a.m.-9 p.m., Sat 9 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun 10 a.m.-8 p.m.

Empire Burritos: 11225 Montgomery NE, 299-6140. Hours: Every day 11 a.m.8 p.m.

Price range: inexpensive. Credit cards accepted, catering.

 

Tomorrow's Events

Northeast Farmers' and Artisans' Market at Albuquerque Academy

Zia-Bernalillo Farmers Market at Zia-Bernalillo Farmers Market

Wednesday

Corrales Growers' Market at Corrales Growers' Market

Fresh, locally grown food and fantastic local music.

More Recommented Events ››
Join our mailing list for exclusive info, the week's events and free stuff!
 

  • Select sidebar boxes to add below. You can also click and drag to rearrange the boxes; close using the little X icons on each box. To re-add a box you closed, return to this menu.
  • Because you are not logged in, any changes you make to these boxes will vanish as soon as you click to another page. If you log in, the boxes will stick.
  • alibi.com
  • Latest Posts
  • Web Exclusives
  • Recent Rocksquawk Discussions
  • Recent Classifieds
  • Latest User Posts
  • Most Active Users
  • Most Active Stories
  • Calendar Comments
  • Upcoming Alibi Picks
  • Albuquerque
  • Duke City Fix
  • Albuquerque Beer Scene
  • What's Wrong With This Picture?
  • Reddit Albuquerque
  • ABQ Journal Metro
  • ABQrising
  • ABQ Journal Latest News
  • Del.icio.us Albuquerque
  • NM and the West
  • New Mexico FBIHOP
  • Democracy for New Mexico
  • Only in New Mexico
  • Mario Burgos
  • Democracy for New Mexico
  • High Country News
  • El Grito
  • NM Politics with Joe Monahan
  • Stephen W. Terrell's Web Log
  • The Net Is Vast and Infinite
  • Slashdot
  • Freedom to Tinker
  • Is there a feed that should be on this list? Tell us about it.
    Low Life Happy Hour
    Low Life Happy Hour9.26.2014