Variety Comes to Old Town
Taking in the breeze at Backstreet Grill
By Ty Bannerman
photos by Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
When’s the last time you went to Old Town? Even if you’re a fan of the kitschy, historic center—as I am—my guess is that you haven’t stopped by Albuquerque’s original plaza in a good few months. And plenty of our readers are probably quick to dismiss it as being strictly for the tourists.
But there are reasons to drop by from time to time, even for the most jaded of locals. Treasure House Books, one of Albuquerque’s last indie book stores, has an excellent Southwestern history selection. On any given summer weekend, the Old Town gazebo features an assortment of musicians and dancers. And now, there’s the Backstreet Grill.
A block away from the plaza, nestled into the requisite old adobe house, Backstreet Grill offers up a wide, airy patio beneath a spreading elm, a fine selection of draft beers (including a lineup of La Cumbre) and a menu of mostly excellent fare of a variety not typically found in the old Villa’s labyrinthine streets. There’s a small indoor space as well, obviously, but if it’s not raining or less than 50 degrees, you owe it to yourself to hang out outside.
Appetizers are plentiful and range from the mountainous Backstreet nachos ($12.49, covered in white and yellow cheese, red chile pulled pork, green chile, pumpkin seeds, corn and black beans) to the sublime New Mexican gumbo ($6, a roux-y green chile stew with Andouille sausage).
But there are reasons to drop by Old Town from time to time, even for the most jaded of locals. Treasure House Books, one of Albuquerque’s last indie book stores, has an excellent Southwestern history selection. On any given summer weekend, the Old Town gazebo features an assortment of musicians and dancers. And now, there’s the Backstreet Grill.
For a main course, I highly recommend the green chile burger ($12.99) because I’m kind of insane for hamburgers, and this one is done just right. The Old Town street tacos ($9.49) are fantastic, with a homemade tortilla and a selection of shredded beef, pulled pork and chicken (ordering one of each is a necessity here). $10, more or less, seems like a lot to pay for three tacos, but they are really quite good.
I’m sorry I can’t say the same for the fish tacos ($10.49). The blackened tilapia seemed to have been blackened a little too long and came out dry and chewy. I’d chalk it up to a one-time mistake in a fairly new kitchen, but the manager tells me that’s how they always do it. For a touch of seafood in our 300-year-old landlocked city center, better go with the shrimp taco instead ($13.49). The plump little prawns in these came out just right, even if the rice on the side was still mushy.
No such reservations regarding the Mexican pizza, however. You can build your own (with a base price of $9.99 and each ingredient costing $.79-$1.50 extra), or you can let the experts in the kitchen serve you up the Backstreet supreme ($14.49), a plate-sized tortilla covered in cotija (a crumbly white Mexican cheese), pulled pork, corn, black beans, green chile and even a few pieces of pineapple. There’s enough of the supreme for at least two meals, so consider splitting the order with a friend.
There are a few desserts on the menu, in particular, two ice cream dishes with accessories. The better of the two comes with a plate of bañuelos [sic] ($4.49), those deep fried tortilla wedges dusted with cinnamon and sugar. A couple scoops of cinnamon flavored ice cream complement them very well. The other features a house-made caramel brownie and vanilla ice cream. The brownie is excellent, what there is of it, but with only a few chunks on the sundae, I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed.
Sure, there are some missteps here, but overall, this is a pretty great place. There’s just something about sitting under that old elm tree with a La Cumbre beer, listening to faint sounds of music from the plaza and awaiting a plate full of Mexican pizza happiness that makes me glad to live in Albuquerque. And happy to have a new reason to visit Old Town.
1919 Old Town NW
Hours: 11am to 9pm, Sunday to Thursday
11am to 10pm, Friday and Saturday
Vibe: Patio living
Vegetarian options: Yes
Extras: Live music
The Weekly Alibi recommends: Green chile cheeseburger, Mexican pizza and Backstreet nachos
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