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 V.25 No.42 | October 20 - 26, 2016

Restaurant Review

The Road to Padilla’s

It’s paved with sauce and sustainability

The combination plate, Christmas Style
The combination plate, Christmas Style
The main road that gets diners to Padilla’s Mexican Kitchen—Girard north of Lomas, terminating at Indian School—passes through a neighborhood that’s always been in search of an identity. But as of 2016, as economic indicators for this state showed a steady but slow recovery in progress, success in the area could be defined by the eatery’s long-time economic dominance, sans credit cards, sans advertising, sans pretense.

Much like Lomas between Girard and Carlisle, the question of whether one is driving through a commercial or residential district is a persistent one. Lush, non-native trees and lawns are interspersed with beautiful, unique middle class homes and local businesses—or their remains. The ones that have been successful have thrived due to a dedicated customer base and an unwavering need for what they provide.

Padilla’s Mexican Kitchen is a locus of the local model that sees sustainability as an outcome; ironically many other long-time businesses in the area are just a memory now.

Notably, Baby Boomers bought groceries for 40 years at Grocery Emporium and then crossed the street to buy Rubylith at Litho Supply (still there and now providing an excellent selection of screen print supplies to Albuquerque the manager, Janet, told me); Gen-Xers hung out all night at the original Harold’s Laundry and reminisced about having their senior pictures taken next door at Kim Jew Photography.

Millennials probably stopped by Harold’s Laundry too—but the new one, esé, where the Circle K used to be— before ambling over to the Blue Dragon for coffee, breakfast and board games.

Padilla’s Mexican Kitchen is a locus of the local model that sees sustainability as an outcome; ironically many other long-time businesses in the area are just a memory now.

There was a Fina gas station on the corner of Girard and Indian School and the Albuquerque Tennis Club was (and still is) on the other side of the road, literally and metaphorically.

Fluctuation in small business sustainability in this small southern corner of the NE heights had a direct effect on business and shopping patterns in the area. Over time, this fragile entrepreneurial environment has seemed to affect every entity there except the aforementioned restaurant. An example of this may be seen in last year’s quick opening and closing of Witch’s Brew, the successor to the storied Blue Dragon.

Following the path to Padilla’s invites three types of anticipation: Some use the journey there to reminisce about what was. Others are interested in knowing about what’s next; there are, after all, several new and successful endeavors blooming in the area—including Da Vinci’s Pizza where the gas station used to be and an expanded Don Mickey Designs in the old photography studios. But the best type of anticipation in this case involves the delicious New Mexican food that will soon be served up for the purposes of review and enjoyment.

The Enchilada Plate with red chile
The Enchilada Plate with red chile

Padilla’s occupies the center of a strip mall that is about as unassuming as things get in the Northeast quadrant of Albuquerque. The restaurant has a glass façade á la the insurance agency next door, very low-key signage and a reputation as one of the best Nuevo Mexicano restaurants in town—a thing it’s done mostly through word of mouth and a steady flow of loyal and hungry patrons.

The interior of Padilla’s, with simple black chairs, small square tables, white walls and local art work scattered here and there, adds a layer of non-elegance and a nonchalant working class vibe that this reviewer welcomed after being continuously exposed to the sometimes Baroque stylings of other area Nuevo Mexicano joints. Even the collection of elephant figurines curated by owner Mary Padilla seemed uncomplicated and earnest. I felt the lack of distractions would enhance my epicurean experience at Padilla’s.

I was right. I began my meal with the obligatory chips and salsa. Here, the salsa’s flavor is determined by a healthy amount of tomato sauce afloat with roasted green chile and fresh onions. Recently-roasted green chile has a satisfying, sometimes tear-inducing, zing to it. That taste property was in full effect as I went through an entire serving of the stuff and asked for more before I had even ordered, meanwhile quickly quaffing 2 16-ounce glasses of sweet tea in the process.

After that, I ordered—get ready for this—the enchilada plate, the arbiter of fitness in the candidacy of comida. I implored my dining partner to order the combination plate, so we would have some idea of the variety of eats on offer. She gleefully agreed to my proposal and so off we went.

The blue corn enchiladas with beef and red chile and combination plate (beef taco, tamale, cheese enchilada) arrived at the same time, served by our host who seemed ebullient that night even though he had to manage a constantly ebbing and flowing full house. Don’t get me wrong, the place wasn’t chaotic, but the flow was constant.

But back to the enchiladas: I had added an egg to my order and it was done to perfection. The yolk was not dangerously runny nor stiff and rubbery like old bird meat. To my mind, the enchiladas underneath the egg were kinda like the Outkast album, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, sneaky and super-confident in demonstration that there is greatness in the seemingly mundane.

The red chile, while not definitively hot or epically bittersweet, certainly met the minimum requirement, surpassing the normative for its use of cumin in the recipe. I liked the soft tenderness of the corn tortillas, the attention the cook had given their preparation showed.

My dining partner told me all about the combination plate—which she had ordered with both red and green—like how it was super-plentiful for one thing, and a nice insight into other menu items I might have overlooked in my quest for the perfect plato de enchiladas.

The taco was the traditional New Mexican sort, with seasoned ground beef and a very crispy—perhaps a bit too crispy for her tastes, she reported—shell. The tamale was so good it made her think of Christmas. She said that was because the masa seemed not frozen, but just made, as one does during the holidays. Her enchilada had plenty of sharp cheddar at its core to balance the heady and blood-thinning green chile that topped it.

On Thursday nights, Padilla’s serves papas, carnitas and quilites. This traditional dish features native spinach sautéed with potatoes and pork loin. That meal is considered a delicacy in these parts and will be on my mind until I return, I thought to myself, as I glanced at the menu and we got up to take our leave.

Outside, the other businesses nearby seemed to be bustling; the parking lots were full and people were coming and going in that neighborhood in Burque. But maybe all of the cars belonged to people that were dining at Padilla’s or shopping at Litho Supply. Just like the identity of this slice of town, it was hard to tell.

Padilla’s Mexican Kitchen
The restaurant’s low key identifier

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Outkast: The Love Below
Padilla’s Mexican Kitchen

1510 Girard NE
Hours: Mon-Fri 11am—7:45pm
Vibe: Sparse yet satisfying!
Alibi Recommends: The Thursday Special: papas, carnitas and quilites

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