alibi online
Free Will AstrologyAlibi's Personals
 V.17 No.43 | October 23 - 29, 2008 

Restaurant Review

Charlie's Front and Back Door

I liked it both ways

“Charlie's Pizza” ($8.50) layers a housemade tortilla with ground beef, salsa, white and yellow cheese, and green chile strips.
Tina Larkin
“Charlie's Pizza” ($8.50) layers a housemade tortilla with ground beef, salsa, white and yellow cheese, and green chile strips.

This place is a dive. And I mean that in a good way—unpretentious and broken-in like a favorite pair of scuffed boots.

The cozily dim restaurant (front) and bar (back) are separated by a kitchen that serves both rooms. Charlie's Front Door is an eatery that appears to cater to old friends—as in receiving Social Security—and young families. A man named Jamie stopped at each table on both of my visits, patting shoulders and asking by name how everyone was doing. Even though I missed out on first-name-basis familiarity, Jamie stopped to make sure I was enjoying my meal. But it may well have been because he felt sorry for me, the only solo diner in the joint. (For the record, I enjoy eating alone and I do have people who love me. They're just too busy to have dinner with me.)

It was such pure eating pleasure that I didn't bother picking it apart from a culinary point of view; I simply indulged.

On my first visit, I ordered sour cream enchiladas with chicken. Amid a sea of red and green sauces that drown platters across this state, these creamy enchiladas stirred something deep inside me. If Charlie's, an old standby, can prominently feature these twists in such a fiercely traditional dish, it gives me hope that other restaurants will start taking liberties with theirs. Charlie's enchiladas were huge and filling. Though the sauce was white, green chile still made a showing—and a rather powerful one at that. The only blunder was the cheese (also white): A too thick blanketing muted the flavors of the dish's less liberal ingredients. My enchiladas came with a sidecar of two sopaipillas (and a few tortilla chips that hitched a ride from another basket). The sopaipillas were fluffy and pillow-like, though they somehow lacked that slightly sweet fried-dough flavor.

The next time I dropped in Charlie's, I brought a friend along and ventured through the rear portal, actually located on the building's side. Charlie's back end is more a bar than restaurant, and so is even dimmer and more worn. So were many of the patrons, including a couple I'll assume was in love. All evening, an elderly “gentleman” whispered, uh, sweet nothings to a girl we at first thought was young until we saw her up close.

Jamie again made an appearance, doing a loop through the bar chatting up regulars. We started on chips with salsa, guacamole and queso. Though the chips weren't anything extraordinary, our salsa was on the spicy side and had a bold tomato flavor. I was especially sold on the guacamole. Thick, rich and smooth, it had a pure avocado taste. We could have skipped the queso, which was no different than what comes out of a Tostitos jar.

I just wasn't into my order of chile rellenos. They were mushy. My companion, a lifelong relleno fan, echoed my sentiments. Served with fideos noodles—which, on their own, I did like—instead of rice, the whole entrée came off as limp and flaccid.

An "Indian burger," on the other hand, was damn hedonistic. The enormous patty served between deflated sopaipillas was so messy it sent juices running down my arm. It was such pure eating pleasure that I didn't bother picking it apart from a culinary point of view; I simply indulged.

Though it's not shiny and polished, Charlie's is still a gem. Both doors open to a close-knit, family feel. One waitress called me “hon”; another raised her eyebrow at our raucous conversation, then leaned in to contribute her own two cents. Its divided building might suggest otherwise, but Charlie's is downright harmonious in serving good, blue-collar food and drink.

The Alibi recommends:

• Sour cream-chicken enchiladas

• Indian burger

• A cold beer to help you get in touch with your working-class roots

Charlie's Front and Back Door, 8224 Menaul NE, 294-3130. Front Door hours: Mon-Sat 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 4:30-9 p.m.; Sun 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Back Door hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. every day. Price range: $8 (open face sandwich) to $14 (steak and enchiladas). Ambience: Neighborhood tavern you can take the kids to. Credit cards, booze, large parties.


Today's Events

Beerland at The Lodge at Santa Fe


Celebrate the premiere of the new VICE docu-series exploring the world of home-brewing at the tour’s first stop. Enjoy happy hour, live music, lawn games, seminars, a special screening of Beerland and more.

Angels Night Out at The Cowgirl BBQ


Downtown Grower's Market at Robinson Park

More Recommended Events ››

  • 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.
  • Latest Posts
  • Web Exclusives
  • 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
  • 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.