There are some strange things about Grandma’s K & I Diner. The location, for instance. There’s a recycling plant across the street, the glinting bales of scrap metal catching the eye as you turn into the parking lot. Abandoned buildings and urban blight abound. Then there’s the restaurant’s exterior: a ramshackle barn of a place, dirty white with red candy-cane stripes. It looks like it might collapse at any moment, and it is certainly not inviting. But the inside is strikingly at odds to this impression—walk in and you’re in a warm, cozy diner straight from the set of Twin Peaks. The wood walls are decorated with antiques and yellowing newspaper clippings; trucker caps hang from nails in the ceiling beams, and the staff is all smiles.
The oddest thing, though, is that many of the tables are decorated with Garduños coasters sealed beneath a surface of clear lacquer. Yes, that Garduños, the warehouse-sized New Mexican chain restaurant that lately suffered serious financial setbacks and closed down many of its locations.
I couldn’t help but feel suspicious of Grandma’s as I looked at the Garduños logos. What did the big G have to do with this place? Had it bought out a mom-and-pop diner that’s remained an independent south Broadway institution since 1960? The waitress soon revealed the real reason for this odd decorating choice—the tables were purchased at discount from the closed Garduños at the Sunport, and the diner’s owner deemed it too expensive to have the lacquering and coasters removed. I can get behind that. Nothing wrong with thriftiness.
So, with the oddities reconciled, my wife and I grabbed a two person booth against the wall, listened to the waitresses call everyone who walked through the door either “honey” or “mijo,” and ordered from a menu that promises (and delivers) “good food and plenty of it.”
Pedro’s carne adovada ($7.25) comes with eggs, hash browns and a flour tortilla. The carne itself was tender and moist and sent a red chile warmth right to the back of my throat. It’s a bolstering kind of dish, hardly any heat to speak of, but plenty of comforting New Mexican flavor. Does your grandma make carne adovada? If so, it’s probably something like this.
There’s also the usual pancakes and pancake-like things—French toast and waffles—to choose from, all of which can be ordered with two eggs and bacon or sausage for $6.75. I went with the French toast, which had a slightly crispy batter and pillowy interior, just as one would hope for. It came with hash browns, which were surprisingly delicate and soft in the mouth. Watch out for the bacon, though. It’s the kind that turns to powder when it so much as touches the tongue.
Now, we can’t talk about Grandma’s without mentioning the Travis. There are five versions of the Travis, Grandma’s signature dish, and which one you order depends on whether you are a human being or a horrific monstrosity born to consume all it sees. The largest of the sizes is the “Travis on a Silver Platter”($17), which Grandma’s claims is a full eight pounds of food. It’s one of those deals where if you eat it in a single sitting then the restaurant will give it to you for free. There are photographs on the wall of patrons who have attempted and presumably succeeded at this venture—though “succeeded” doesn’t seem like the right word in this context.
I ordered the quarter Travis ($6.75), one step up from the “wimp Travis” on the lowest rung of the scale. When the beastly thing came I wanted to run away—it’s basically a giant pile of fries with something mysterious and meaty lurking underneath. Fortunately, an excavation through the potatoes revealed that the Travis is at its heart a red chile ground beef burrito smothered in green chile, cheese and lettuce. It’s the same mild, but flavorful, red as in the carne adovada, and it works well to give the beef a bit of interest without really setting it apart as anything special. The green chile, on the other hand, is a perfunctory touch, and honestly I could hardly taste it. And the fries? They’re your standard diner fries, crispy and warm, but really just an empty-caloried obstacle between you and the burrito. In fact, if this burrito sounds appealing, I’d suggest skipping the Travis altogether and instead choosing the burrito plate ($6-$8.75). It’s the same dish—it even comes in full, half, quarter and eighth sizes, like the Travis—but without a bunch of goddamned fries in the way.
Of course, finishing any size of the burrito plate won’t land your picture on the wall, so consider your goals before ordering.
Grandma’s is a pleasant little joint in a part of town that could stand a few more such homey destinations. The food varies in quality, but the kitschy atmosphere and the excellent carne adovada ensure that it will have a place on my breakfast rotation. And the full-sized Travis will always have a place in my nightmares.