Tia Betty Blue’s Forever!
Your own aunt couldn’t do this good
I literally jumped out of bed early Sunday morning with my mind set on checking out Tia Betty Blue’s New Mexican Cafe. I’d spent the day before wandering through the Taste of ABQ Festival in Uptown, serving as a food judge and eating way too much delicious local chow; so I spent the rest of the day and most of the evening resting and recuperating from my gustatory indulgences.
By the way, what a totally awesome event Taste of ABQ presents—the enchiladas and pizza, to which I gave ultra-high, gratefully satisfying scores—filled me with an epicurean wonder which took an entire evening to subside.
Anywho, Tia Betty Blue’s, up on San Mateo near Gibson, is a Nuevo Mexicano joint with a twist. I say it has a twist because it draws on familiar fare and adds wonderfully knowing flair to a dining methodology that can otherwise get repetitive (that is, if you spend as much time as I do finding, sampling and writing about our city’s soul food).
Since the restaurant’s just a few blocks away and therefore strategically located—vis-à-vis my current, though somewhat permanent, location in Fringecrest (the old lady and I just celebrated 15 years in a beautiful chante perched on the hill, whose interior is similar to the rocked-out pad shared by a fictitious band called the Monkees, or so I am told)—I thought it would be a good way to ease my way back onto earth after a diurnal period spent driving through the Heights, eating everything thrown at me and then sleeping for 12 hours.
I was right.
Eating at this restaurant is truly like a trip to your favorite tia’s place for breakfast, conversation and good times. The place was packed with people, young and old, of every possible description, all partaking in what I can only describe as the very best in New Mexican cuisine.
Allow me to go into specifics.
The service staff, overseen by Zoey and Ashley, is friendly, knowledgeable and accommodating. Their efforts to engage and provide a top-notch experience is unparalleled, so far, in my monthly visitations to local eateries. The cooks deserve a hearty and wholesome shout-out that reflects the heart and expertise they put into their work. The fact they all work so well together, under the onslaught of hungry Burqueños lining up and sitting down to enjoy what Tia Betty Blue’s has to offer, speaks to the ultimate excellence to be encountered there.
A combination of fresh corn, zucchini and cheese, flavored with a dash of green chile and cilantro, calabacitas are a late summer, early autumn favorite among New Mexicans in the know; they are rarely offered at restaurants because they are difficult to do right. Here, there was no question about their proper preparation and use.
I ordered the breakfast enchiladas with red. My wife had the vegetarian breakfast tacos. We also sampled the carne adovada.
The meals came, by default one supposes, with blue corn tortillas, used to contain, support and magnify a hugely delicious amount of eggs, beans, potatoes, cheese and yes, calabacitas.
The calabacitas filling Samantha’s order of breakfast tacos were breathtaking. That is to say, they more than filled the requisite recipe for the traditional dish, imparting a flavor both sublime and sumptuous. A combination of fresh corn, zucchini and cheese, flavored with a dash of green chile and cilantro, calabacitas are a late summer, early autumn favorite among New Mexicans in the know; they are rarely offered at restaurants because they are difficult to do right. Here, there was no question about their proper preparation and use. Sweetly familiar yet voluminously vegetably, the make for a helluva taco, breakfast or otherwise—yes, I took one home for dinner, thank you.
Kudos to the culinary vision that would place such a rare recipe upon a humble blue corn tortilla; its audacious yet traditional in the sense that such creativity comes from the heart. One can indeed imagine a favorite aunt coming up with such an idea as harvest time approaches, as she dutifully lays out the menu for her beloved yet restlessly hungry relatives seeking a confirmation of comfort as well as something new and ingenious to focus their forks upon.
The breakfast enchiladas were similarly enchanting. Presented in a heaping portion along with a bowl of smoky, slow-cooked whole beans and well-done, yet tender papas fritas, the whole lot is covered in a smooth and subtly sensational red chile sauce. The sauce does not so much depend on heat to do its job as on the subtle flavor that results from cooking, peeling and liquefying the sun-ripened fruit of the chile plant from scratch. The blue corn tortillas were pleasantly applied to awesome effect. Luxuriously soft, tempting in texture and in presentation, I am now convinced that blue is the way to go. Previously I pretended that their use was a mere pretense; of late, I am prepared to make them part of my quest for the best.
Did I mention the beans? They’re obviously slow-cooked, tender, with just a hint of bacon to augment their profoundly positive character. The carne adovada is likewise to be deeply contemplated by eaters everywhere. Smooth and stringy, sans fat and sauce, with a lingeringly hot aftertaste borne on the time-tested meat-eating aesthetics originally overseen by ranch hands state-wide, here is yet another example of how New Mexican food should be done.
At Tia Betty Blue’s, diners approach the counter to order and pay. For first timers this may seem a bit of a distraction, a test of patience. But for anyone who’s been there before or will no doubt go again, it is but another aspect of a building anticipation that proceeds to evolve into one of this city’s best Nuevo Mexicano eating experiences.
Take my advice: Go to this place. From the second story you can look over the greenery of Ridgecrest, the pueblo-stylings of the old Lovelace Hospital, while listening earnestly or surreptitiously to your friends and neighbors tell about their lives. More importantly, one can enjoy a truly rare experience that combines a relaxed contemplation of tradition with the heady and belly-filling innovation of the new and flavorfully nuanced.
1248 San Mateo Blvd. SE
Hours: M-F 7am-2pm, Sat-Sun 8am-2pm
Vibe: Totally cool, ultimately relaxed
Alibi recommends: Breakfast Enchiladas!