Alibi V.17 No.18 • May 1-7, 2008 

Restaurant Review

Mad Max’s BBQ

From road warrior to Thunderdome

Thought you’d never step foot in a Rio Rancho strip mall? Mad Max has other plans.
Thought you’d never step foot in a Rio Rancho strip mall? Mad Max has other plans.
Tabatha Roybal

Having spent several years gorging myself on the finest barbecue Kansas City has to offer, New Mexico's slim pickings are like a glimpse into a post-apocalyptic world. Who could’ve guessed that a real-life Mad Max would come to the rescue?

Max Montaño and his wife, Francis, spent two years as drifters in the desert, delivering their slow-cooked meats from trucks as caterers before setting up shop in Rio Rancho. Now stationary on Sara Road, around the corner from Intel’s compound, Max and Francis are well on their way to becoming a saucy oasis in a barbecue wasteland.

Inside, you’ll find more room than their truck would have offered, but not much. With space largely dedicated to cooking, diners have to squeeze into a few tables that fill up quickly, especially at lunch. According to one employee, “It’s standing-room only, with a line out the door.”

When asked to describe his cooking style, Max explains, “I guess it’s my own style. It’s like West Texas barbecue with Kansas City-style sauce.”

The "Mad Max Plate" is loaded with black angus brisket, pulled pork, baked beans and potato salad for  $8.79.
The "Mad Max Plate" is loaded with black angus brisket, pulled pork, baked beans and potato salad for $8.79.
Tabatha Roybal

He goes on to say he never sauces his meat before cooking, preferring to offer it on the side. “I don’t like to use sauce when it doesn’t need it.”

That’s a pretty big claim for a New Mexican in the barbecue business. Here’s how he stacked up.

Max’s beef brisket, which earned several trophies from competitions in Grand Junction and Durango, Colo., was great on its own and with sauce. Tomato-based with plenty of spice, it gave the meat—tender and smoky from 18 hours in the pit—quite a kick.

I was equally impressed with the barbecued pork. Pork's flavor evaporates in the hands of less experienced pitmasters, but this swine shined. Juicy and yielding, I tore into it like the Feral Kid. I eventually abandoned my fork altogether. (What's the point in being ladylike when you're digging into a shredded pile of pig?) Ditto for the ribs, whose slight outer crust gave way to more porcine perfection.

When asked to describe his cooking style, Max explains, “I guess it’s my own style. It’s like West Texas barbecue with Kansas City-style sauce.”

Chicken thighs were cooked with their skin on. Underneath, I found moist flesh that nicely reflected Max’s powerful spice blend.

I wasn’t as enthusiastic about the smoky adovada. Perhaps the dish comes to life wrapped in a tortilla and smothered, but the solo smoked carne with red chile just didn’t sit right. Alongside creamy, tangy potato salad, it seemed out of place. Max does offer it in burrito form, so if you give it a shot, try it that way.

This coliseum of meat also serves several New Mexican dishes. Taking direction from Max and Francis' moms, enchiladas, tacos and burritos make their own mark on the menu.

I ordered cheese enchiladas, which arrived as two corn tortillas buried under melted cheese. Here, too, sauce is served on the side. Chunky tomatoes, onions and green chile appeared (to me at least) as a cooked salsa. Max, on the other hand, insists on its authenticity, saying, “It’s more northern New Mexico style.” Either way, it tasted pretty good, bringing a freshness to the plate that long-stewed sauces just don’t have.

I was amazed by the service. Only minutes after ordering, my food was placed before me, drinks were constantly refilled and emptied plates quickly removed. Upon learning that Max and Francis had opened their doors a mere month before my visits, my amazement grew. While most new restaurants need some time to settle into a smooth routine, the Montaños made the transition from truck to building without a hitch. In the smoky Thunderdome of meat and sauce, Mad Max is easily holding his own.

The Alibi recommends:

• Beef brisket

• Barbecued pork

• Chicken thighs

• Ribs

• Potato salad

Mad Max’s BBQ, 1600 Sara Road, Rio Rancho, 891-8910. Hours: Tue-Fri 6:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Sat 7:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Sun 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Closed Mondays. Price range: inexpensive. Credit cards accepted, catering available.