We're not overstating things when we say life in Albuquerque revolves around eating and drinking. Among the first items of business for settlers entering the Rio Grande Valley was planting vineyards (just after unhitching the horses, but before building the churches). A day without chile is said to be like a day without sunshine. Generations of families still feud about whether sopaipillas come with or after a meal, and volumes are told about a person by the way he or she orders his or her enchiladas.
We make sure to announce the best restaurants in Albuquerque in our annual Best of Burque Restaurants poll, which arrives every October. But for the myriad culinary delights that lay outside the realm of restaurants—an abundant crop of outdoor growers markets or our relish for cooking classes—we present our Eats and Drinks winners from our regular Best of Burque poll. Eat, drink and be merry!
Best Place to Eat to Live Music
Scalo Nothern Italian Grill
A bowl of roasted mussels goes down nicely anywhere, but toss in a glass of dry white wine and live music from a jazz combo, as they so aptly do at Scalo Northern Italian Grill, and you'll be one happy clam.St. Clair Winery and Bistro scored a solid second place by booking stellar acts like Joanie Griffin and Combo Special to serenade their dinner guests. O'Niell's Pub, Garduños and Martini Grille make mouths and ears happy, too.
Tie: Nick (Bravo Cucina Italiana), Nicole K. (The Library Bar and Grill)
Servers go through hell (and, in the event the industrial dishwasher breaks down, high water) to get your food out fast and hot. But when you see seasoned pros like Nick from Bravo or Nicole K. from The Library do it, you'll understand why their jobs merit an award. Second placer Mike C. from Red Robin always remembers to leave a little room for cream in your coffee, and you'd probably never eat at Applebee’s if it weren't for third place waiter Andrew G.
Best Produce Selection
La Montañita Co-op
The organic fruits and veggies at La Montañita Co-op are lovingly tended like cherished family heirlooms (and when it comes to tomatoes, they are heirlooms). Co-op, the people of Albuquerque commend you for keeping your produce happy, healthy and wise. Second place Whole Foodsbrings exciting things like persimmons and champagne mangos to the general public, while Raley'sissitting pretty in third as the peaches they sell.
Best Butcher/Meat Counter
Keller’s Farm Stores
Dedicated omnivores love Keller’s because their two stores are like an enormous Whitman's sampler of specialty meats. Want some wurst? They've got the best. Raring for rabbit? Hop over to the frozen section. Even the hotdogs—like all the meat at Keller's, they’re free of antibiotics and growth stimulants—are heavenly. Second placeRaley's and third place Whole Foods are also loved for their tasty meat treats and friendly service.
Flying Star Café
Diets come and go, but remember this: You love Flying Star Café most of allfor never, ever, turning its back on butter. Not a once. ABC Cakesrose to second place with cakes that are almost too pretty to eat—almost. Great Harvest Bread Companybakes a ridiculous variety of fresh loaves every day, which is why you gave them third in our poll.
Best Specialty Grocery Store
There's no denying it. TJ's grabbed your heart and placed it gingerly in a cart when it opened its first Albuquerque store last year. And for good reason—the prices are positively rock-bottom, and every shopping trip is guaranteed to produce at least one "Ohhhh! What's this?" Second place Talin Market is a perennial favorite for their gleaming isles of transcontinental foodstuffs, and the down-home healthiness of La Montañita Co-opmakes for fine company in third.
Best Cooking Classes
Great teachers, fabulous facilities and a well-rounded curriculum are essential tools for a great cooking class. And when it comes to a comprehensive education in baking and cooking (at a decidedly un-fine-dining price), the American Culinary Federation-accredited culinary arts department at CNM takes the cake. The lessons at second place Jane Butel's Cooking Schoolsare well-done (and not half-baked), while third place Now We’re Cookingwhips kitchen wimps into chiseled chefs.
Best Outdoor Growers’ Market
Los Ranchos Growers' Market
Unique for its long season (early May through late October), winter market (every second Saturday, November through April) and a healthy dose of handicrafts, the Los Ranchos Growers' Market is an Albuquerque tradition worth celebrating year-round. The Albuquerque Downtown Marketsprung up in second place this year, thanks to its convenient location and an emphasis on valley farms and local artisans. The hidden jewel that is the Corrales Growers' Marketthrives in third.
Best Local Winery
Believe it or not, New Mexico has more than 400 years of winemaking history under its belt—we're among the oldest wine regions in the country! With a pedigree like that, it's easy to see how Gruet Winery's Blanc de Blancs could take best of show at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in London last summer, and first place in our poll. The vintners atCasa Rodeña Wineryare so good at crafting fine wines, you awarded them with second place. Finally, you raised a glass to St. Clair Winery, who placed third.
When you've got a house full of hungry guests, nothing says loving like a sumptuous smörgåsbord prepared by The Cooperage. Personal touches by husband-and-wife chefs Gwen and Scott Clapp make Blue Plate Special worthy of second place (ask about cooking classes, too!), while both Indulgence Cateringand Garcia'sdelivered a tasty third-place tie.