Blue Cactus Grill
Red and green that’s true blue
By Maren Tarro
Ahh, New Mexican cuisine. It indulges our most gluttonous cravings with endless cheese-and-chile concoctions. It's our ultimate hangover cure, and we patronize our favorite New Mexican restaurants with religious zeal. But sometimes even a good thing gets old. Before full-blown boredom sets in, we've got to find a new flame to rekindle the faith.
Oddly enough, our next savior may be in a Westside strip mall. Blue Cactus Grill is a locally owned restaurant in an area weighed down by chains and big brands. Opening shop in a shark tank is a bold move, especially in this bloody economy.
Inside, Blue Cactus attempts to shake that sterile strip-mall feel with decorative touches. There are real tablecloths and contemporary bits and pieces like metal cacti. The small space feels more upscale than your average fajita purveyor.
Chips and salsa quickly find their way to the table: Yellow corn chips mingle with a handful of blue corn, all poised to scoop up what appears to be run-of-the-mill salsa. It's anything but. Thrillingly erratic flavors bounce between ripe, crushed tomatoes and spirited spice; this jazzed-up salsa is more than just a dip.
The same can't be said of the Sandia dip; though served with flour tortilla chips, it’s no slam dunk. Touted on the menu as a hearty helping of Blue Cactus’ green chile-cheese sauce and refried beans, the unpalatably salty dip is more clumpy than saucy. I'll stick with red chile in the future. Further down the menu, the smoky red sauce swaths carne adovada that's been slow-cooked to near-disintegration. And it's good. Not to be outdone, meaty spareribs topped with green chile could easily become a tender addiction.
Tacos and stuffed sopaipillas are Zia state standards done well enough. But there's nothing standard about the chile rellenos. These chiles teem with the heat and flavor of New Mexico’s unrelenting sun. Encased in a crisp batter and drizzled with cilantro-lime sour cream, they're easily some of the best rellenos in Burque.
Encased in a crisp batter and drizzled with cilantro-lime sour cream drizzle, they're easily some of the best rellenos in Burque.
As thrilling as that relleno is, it's not the most ingenious creation to come from Blue Cactus' kitchen. The empanada burger is. What’s not to love about a tortilla that’s been wrapped around a hamburger, stuffed with cheese and any number of toppings and then deep-fried? So what if it’s not gourmet? It’s a matchless illustration of what dude food can be with a little effort. And it’s even more awesome smothered in chile.
Most entrées come with a side of papas—both sweet and white potatoes that are fried to an even blend of crisp and mash—and calabacitas. It's difficult to pass over your veggies when you're looking at sautéed squash, corn and onions.
The service at Blue Cactus is generally aces, but there are small glimpses of inexperience. A check dropped off too early or a briefly forgotten side is as bad as it gets and quickly rectified. The owners have a strong presence in the kitchen and dining room, busy inspecting plates and visiting with each table. It’s endearing and goes a long way toward showing the difference between independent restaurants and those other places down the street.
The Alibi recommends:
Green chile spareribs
Devouring rellenos while contemplating the purpose of metal cacti
Blue Cactus Grill, 9780 Coors NW, 890-7800. Hours: Tue thru Wed 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Thu thru Sat 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sun 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Price range: $3.50 (breakfast burrito) to $18.99 (angus filet). Ambience: New Mexico chic. Credit cards, large parties, private events.
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