Freshman Geography

Your Guide To Albuquerque’s Terrible Neighborhoods (And What’s Awesome About Them)

Ty Bannerman
9 min read
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Sometimes the different neighborhoods in Albuquerque can seem like different cities. Sometimes they can seem like different worlds. No wonder many of our residents have such extreme opinions, most of them negative, about whatever area they don’t happen to live in. If you take these opinions at face value, you might never leave your own part of town, and that’s a real shame. That’s why we at the Alibi have taken it upon ourselves to help you sort through the rumors and stereotypes and find what’s actually wonderful about some of the most maligned parts of our city.

University Heights (Between I-25 And Girard, South Of Central Avenue)

What you’ll hear: “The Student Ghetto? Fine, if you want to go to a raging kegger with a bunch of 20-year-olds, but I wouldn’t live there.”

But really: Don’t get me wrong, if you’re hunting for a kegger, this is definitely the place to look. But University Heights is also one of Albuquerque’s most interesting neighborhoods, replete with historic homes and the eclectic joys of a young, hip population. Naturally, it also features some of the best parts of student life—think coffee shops ( Winning, Satellite and Duggan’s ) and cheap (but good!) restaurants like the eternally popular Frontier , the homey New Mexican El Patio and the Greek efficiency of Olympia Café . And if you’re ready to dabble in causes larger than yourself, stop by the Center for Peace and Justice and read up on the social/political issues near-and-dear to your heart. You might even get swept up in a protest or two.

Nob Hill (Along Central Between Girard And Morningside)

What you’ll hear: “More like Snob Hill. It’s for old people who want to shop for jewelry and spend too much money on food.”

But really: Nob Hill has long been one of Albuquerque’s most visitor-friendly (without being touristy) neighborhoods. Most notably, it boasts a load of excellent restaurants that cater to all price points, from the late-night Mexican food at The Last Call to the fine dining options of Scalo and Elaine’s . This is also your area if you want to catch up on independent cinema at Albuquerque’s only remaining art house theater, the Guild (see Intro to Film in this issue). There are several great venues for live music, like Shade Tree ; there are few better areas to get your vintage shopping done; and you can even catch a play over at Aux Dog Theatrea . Oh, and there are several restaurants offering up their own in-house brewed beer, including Tractor Brewing Company, Bosque Public House, Bistronomy B2B, Il Vicino Pizza and Kelly’s Brew Pub .

The International District (Along Central Between San Mateo And Eubank)

What you’ll hear: “That’s the War Zone. You WILL get shot.”

But really: Yes, this part of town is still a little rough around the edges (wandering drunk down alleys in the middle of the night is probably not a good idea here … or anywhere else, really) but crime has declined considerably since the “War Zone” name was coined in the late ‘80s. Today the area is known for its distinct mix of inhabitants representing a variety of nationalities, from Vietnamese to Cuban to African. According to former State Senator Tim Keller, who represented the district before he became State Auditor, some 27 languages are spoken in this area. What does that mean for you? Well, for one thing, you’ll find a plethora of great Asian restaurants, like the excellent Vietnamese food options at Café Da Lat , Que Huong and the May Café . If you prefer to do your international eating at home, stop by the Talin Market for a selection of goods representing regional cuisine from every continent. On Wednesdays, the Market hosts a gathering of some of the city’s best food trucks, from 11am to 1pm.

Downtown (Along Central From I-25 To 12Th Street)

What you’ll hear: “If you want to go clubbing and hook up, this is the place, but watch out for gangbangers and terrifying vagrants.”

But really: Yeah, it can get a little crazy on a weekend night, but Downtown is about much more than nocturnal hedonism. There’s little that feels more wholesome than starting out your Saturday morning with a trip to the Downtown Grower’s Market at Robinson Park , for instance, where a wide array of local farmers and artists offer up their wares while live music wafts soothingly through the air. Or how about catching some classic cinema at the Pueblo deco (a Southwester off-shoot of art deco) KiMo Theatre ? There’s improv comedy at The Box , and you can’t throw a rock without hitting an excellent restaurant like Café Caribe or Q Burger . Head south along 4th Street and you’ll find yourself in the Barelas neighborhood with ready access to both the Hispanic Cultural Center and the Rail Yards Market.

Old Town (Bordered By Rio Grande Avenue, Central Avenue And Mountain Road)

What you’ll hear: “My parents made me go when I first moved here. I guess it’s okay if you’re shopping for a Kokopelli to put on your wall or something. But it’s not Santa Fe.”

But really: Old Town is a weird little place, but that’s kind of what’s so cool about it. Yeah, it carries the knock-off Santa Fe vibe, but there’s still plenty for locals to do. Every weekend from April to October, for instance, the area hosts live music in the central gazebo, and there are multiple festivals throughout the year (Dia de los Muertos, luminaria walks, Founders’ Day, etc .) And if music isn’t your thing, there are still shops like Treasure House Books and the Candy Lady with plenty of local appeal. Just a short jaunt from the Old Town plaza you’ll find the Albuquerque Museum , which always features great art exhibits.

The South Valley (Pretty Much Everything South Of Bridge Street)

What you’ll hear: “Oh, it’s so sketchy and dangerous down there. And you’ll get lost immediately. And they hate outsiders.”

But really: I was born in the South Valley, so I’m a little partial to its peculiar mix of urban and rural life. As one of the most unique parts of our city (even though it’s technically outside of ABQ city limits) it’s well worth checking out. Though it has a reputation for xenophobia, most folks are friendly and a walk along one of the irrigation ditches (or arroyos) that crisscross the area is often the setting for neighbors to catch up with each other. Restaurants like Kathy’s Carry Out and Abuelita’s offer great New Mexican food, and paleteria Pop Fizz has cornered the market on locally made frozen treats. In the autumn, the Marigold Parade attracts thousands of Dia de los Muertos celebrants.

The North Valley (Between I-25 And The River, North Of I-40)

What you’ll hear: “That’s for rich people in million dollar houses.”

But really: The North Valley is actually a very diverse part of town. For one thing, it’s a huge area that comprises many neighborhoods. Some are, yes, for millionaires only, but you’ll also find family-oriented neighborhoods of all income levels like Los Duranes and Los Griegos that have existed for centuries. There’s also community owned farmland at Los Poblanos Fields and access to the extensive trails along the Bosque (that’s the forest by the river for you new guys) at the Rio Grande Nature Center. Throw in some badass local shops like La Montañita Co-op and Bookworks , as well as the locally sourced cuisine of Farm & Table and you can see why so many of us are enchanted by the area.
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