New Mexican eats that hit the spot
I spent three weeks in Missouri eating barbecue and wild mushrooms paired, of course, with cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon. It was great, but I couldn’t help but feel as though something was missing. My years in New Mexico have had an effect on me. I needed chile—and bad.
Down on Fourth, just south of Montaño, there’s a teeny little dining room called Marlene’s. I pulled in and headed for a booth hoping it had just what I needed to set things right.
With only a handful of tables and a counter dedicated to takeout orders, Marlene’s is small. Photos depicting Albuquerque highlights (the Balloon Fiesta, chile) don the walls along with Kokopellis and other tried-and-true symbols of the Southwest. A quick peek back into the kitchen reveals one or two cooks quietly and solemnly absorbed in their work.
My server, also my hostess, cook and cashier, turned out to be the owner herself. She whisked through the restaurant, taking orders, preparing and delivering them, and occasionally taking a moment to chat with diners. How she kept it all together is beyond me—and to top it off, she was cheerful and friendly. Many kudos to a woman who wears so many hats.
I tried a sopaipilla stuffed with carne adovada and smothered with red chile. The adovada was fork-tender and brightly piquant. I wasn’t so thrilled with the sopaipilla. It was heavy with a strong yeasty taste that kept interfering with the deeply flavored chile. Lettuce and a generous helping of cheese were also stuffed into the sopaipilla. It was straight-up New Mexican comfort food that nearly had me licking my plate clean.
Chile rellenos aren’t usually my bag, but Marlene had me singing a different tune. The zest of the green chile shone against a backdrop of melted cheese and greaseless breading instead of getting camouflaged by its companions. Smothered with even more green chile, it came together as an indulgent treat for a capsaicin-starved and weary traveler.
On another trip, I tried a "Lucero" burrito and chicken taquitos from the takeout menu. Both were perfectly suited for behind-the-wheel dining and fuel for a long drive home. The to-go service was prompt, and a warm paper bag was handed to me in minutes.
I made my way through the taquitos as I barreled down I-25. The corn tortillas were impossibly thin, yet they somehow stood up to the massive amount of moist chicken they enveloped. The taquitos were delicate and crisp, crumbling with each bite. A couple did have some cold chicken in the center, but since everything was fully cooked and obviously fresh, it wasn't offensive. I tossed aside the cheese sauce after discovering it was no more than cold Cheese Whiz. Next time, I’ll opt for the salsa.
And then there’s that "Lucero" burrito. Rich refried beans dotted with thick chunks of chicharrón were dressed up with a feisty chile sauce and wrapped in a thick, fluffy flour tortilla. As I made my way home with the steering wheel in one hand, beastly burrito in the other, my eyes occasionally closed as I became overwhelmed by the hedonistic nature of such a creation.
While Marlene’s will never be accused of being a fine-dining restaurant, it should certainly be considered a fine place to grab some tempting eats. Falling under the “mom’s home cooking” category, locals and visitors alike will take immense comfort in Marlene’s pleasant service and heartwarming food.
The Alibi recommends:
• Carne adovado
• Chile rellenos
• Lucero burrito
• Chicken taquitos
Marlene’s, 5312 Fourth Street NW, 344-0439. Hours: Mon-Sat 9:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Price range: $8.49 (stuffed sopaipilla plate with ground beef) to $9.49 (Chile relleno plate), though several à la carte items are available. Ambience: Happy little hole-in-the-wall. Credit cards, carryout, no booze.