Staff Picks

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For this year’s edition of Best of Burque, we decided to do something a wee bit different. As much as we respect the electoral will of our readers, every time Best of Burque comes around we find ourselves wishing we could point out some aspects of our lovely city that fall through the cracks when the poll results are released. These staff picks are meant to plug a few, but by no means all, of these holes. Keep in mind that Albuquerque—contrary to popular opinion—is a big, vibrant, active place. We aren’t aiming to be comprehensive. That would be impossible. These are just a few things about Albuquerque that folks would surely enjoy if they gave them half a chance. Dig in!

Best Parade

Held on the Sunday closest to Dia De Los Muertos (Nov. 2), this gloriously homegrown parade features dolled-up lowriders, gigantic puppets, sincere political protests (the Zapatistas remain a favorite topic), lots of cheap Mexican candy and more calaveras (skulls) than you can shake a tissue-paper marigold at. Revelers gather afterward at the Westside Community Center for atole (cornmeal drink) and dancing. Pure Albuquerque! (DO’L)

Best Place To Break Your Arm Ice Blocking Because There's A Hospital Within Walking Distance

Screams of joy and screams of pain can been heard for miles surrounding Netherwood Park , a small residential park off Indian School and Princeton with a sled-tastic hill. Never fear to sled here; the University Hospital is just a short walk away, although excruciating pain will make the shortest journey seem like a trip to the South Pole. (AD)

Best Place To Snack On A Freshly Baked Chocolate Chip Scone While Surfing The Net

This category speaks for itself. No one does a better chocolate chip scone than the Blue Dragon Coffeehouse . No one. Not even Betty Crocker. Plus, they make some wicked-good vegan baked goods and there’s free wi-fi. (AD)

Best Place To Take A Date To Confirm Her Suspicions You Are A Geek

If you’re pretty sure your date would like to get near your pants for something other than a wedgie, Adult Night at !explora! is the ideal spot to seal the deal—for better or worse. Just keep telling yourself, "Everyone loves a geek," then take her into the mirror room and make a run for first base. If she doesn’t go for it, you can always blame it on the distorted image formed by your reflection in the plane mirror. (AD)

Best Afterschool Program You Probably Haven't Heard Of

The Cornstalk Institute is no "teddy bear club." While it only offers programs to a few middle schools due to its small size, Cornstalk works with Albuquerque’s youth to help them learn stress and anger management, communication, leadership, problem solving and more through mentorship programs, experiential games and high adventures. In conclusion, it’s fun as hell and learns your little ones good. (AD)

Best Use Of The Newly Torn Down Beach Waterpark

Hey, developers! We don’t care what you put in the dilapidated Beach Waterpark graveyard, just don’t make a giant parking lot. Might we be so bold as to suggest another urban green space, maybe even a large playground with swings and slides and a merry-go-round? The Beach used to be fun—replace it with fun. (AD)

Best Reason To Wake Up Early On A Saturday

Ordinary retail shopping drives me crazy. I hate the crappy, lobotomizing, piped-in music. I hate the long lines. I hate the claustrophobic, sterile ambience. Give me the grimy flea market at Expo New Mexico any day of the week. OK, actually, you can only give it to me on Saturday and Sunday, since that’s when it’s open, but I’ll take what I can get. It’s the state’s oldest and largest outdoor flea market. You can find everything here from handmade belts to hunting knives to bicycles to local produce. The flea market is also one of the best places in town to people watch. Word of warning: The market starts early and ends early—with many vendors packing up at around 2 or 3 p.m.—so don’t dawdle! (SRA)

Best Girls' Night Out

Are you a Vanilla Pop tart? You frickin’ should be! Al Dente and Lester Moore are a slick-witted duo of lounge singers who lay the cheese on thick and the talent even thicker. Gather with your best girlfriends any (or every) Wednesday at the Martini Grille, order a round of fancy martinis and get ready to sing along to your favorite pop hits. Request a Prince song. It doesn’t matter which–any will do. (AD)

Best New Vegan-Friendly Restaurant And Grocery Store

Full-service grocery stores are sorely absent Downtown, and everyone who lives, works or regularly visits the area knows it. But even though our neighborhoods are still in need of a place where we can check off the bulk of our shopping lists, we now have a location where we can get our peanut butter and bread … along with our high-protein, low-fat smoothies and granola bars. Vitality Juice is a welcome addition to Downtown, with addictively delicious lunch fare along with a small market. The restaurant/store also has a wealth of vegan and vegetarian options. Now, whether you live Downtown, work Downtown or just frequent our movie theater, there’s a place you can go to grab a healthful meal and pick up your cereal. (CC)

Best Annual Folk Art Celebration

Hoedoooowwwwwn! Yessirreebob, slip on them overalls and let your inner hillbilly yodel his or her heart out. Yardfest boasts some of the finest folksy art you’ll find anywhere, from both local artists and visitors from other states. The brainchild of Steve White, the tradition has been carried on by local artist Kenny Chavez. White’s baby has also inspired several similar events like the We Art the People Folk Festival Downtown and Corky Frausto’s Corkfest in the South Valley. No word yet on when (or where) this year’s Yardfest will occur, but it’s sure to be a doozy, with art, tons of local music and the ever-popular Hillbilly Biathalon (seed-spitting and pie-eating). (SRA)

Best New Sex Shop Focused On Sex Education

There’s simply no such thing as too many classy sex shops. Seriously. Every time a new woman-friendly "adult" business opens we want to personally go hug the owners. And Self Serve, one of the newest additions to East Nob Hill, is no ordinary classy sex shop. Specializing in sex education, the business offers a number of "sexuality resource" classes, on topics as multifarious as flogging, safe sex, leading a fat-positive sex life, self defense for women, gender and sexuality, and the neuroscience of relationships, to name a few. Plus, the store has very possibly the best sex library in town, along with some of the highest-quality sex toys, chocolates and “new mommy” accessories. You’d be remiss not to see what this spectacular new fixture in the community has to offer. (CC)

Best Place To Meditate On The Transience Of Life

Look west from almost anywhere in Albuquerque, and you’ll see five distinct bumps lined up along the West Mesa. Geologists often refer to these as cinder cones, but most of the locals call them volcanoes. Sounds cooler, doesn’t it? There’s a little cave located in the side of Vulcan, the biggest of the five (the one in the middle). A more spacious but still cozy cave is located near the top of the fourth volcano (the second from the right if you’re looking west). It’s a long hike out there, so odds are you won’t see anyone. Go inside. It’s a little humid, which is nice. Sweep aside some of the shards of broken glass and other debris. Find a comfortable place to sit. Crack open a Schlitz. Look east. Ponder the possibility that one day a river of lava might run through Albuquerque destroying everything and everyone in its path. Smile sagely to yourself. Toast the God of Magma. See that it is good. (SRA)

Most Sustainable Answer To The Loft Housing Craze

So we don’t want to get all down on the Downtown loft housing craze or anything, it’s just that the trend’s getting a little ridiculous. I mean, we’re all for walkable communities, smart infill and mixed-use design, but we’d also like to be able to afford to live in the places that subscribe to those tenets. If developers want to come into the neighborhood and fancy things up, great. They just shouldn’t push out the people who already live there with "lofty" property rates. Thankfully, there may be an antidote.

The Sawmill Lofts embody what the Downtown lofts seem to merely aspire to: a true community that retains some of its most valuable residents by offering affordable housing. The Sawmill Lofts, designed with the artist in mind, are not only structurally beautiful (using tall ceilings, large windows and unpredictable angles to create unique floor plans), they’re conceptually beautiful as well, with honest-to-goodness community spaces like a dog park, an art garage and a mezzanine where residents can display their artwork. If only more developers would take a hint and expand on what The Sawmill Lofts have started. (CC)

Most Well-Heeled Hangover Cure

After a particularly scandalous night on the town, I like to slip on some Jackie-O sunglasses and slink into The Grove. They serve a tremendous breakfast with two poached eggs on Sage Bakehouse toast shards, a few roasted asparagus spears, heavenly San Daniele prosciutto and shaved Parmesan. Gets me feeling fancy again in no time. And, of course, the housemade sangria doesn’t hurt, either. (LM)

Best Taco-Free Happy Hour

No, not another "free taco" happy hour with cheap ground beef and Budweiser droughts. Taco-free . And for my pennies, Monday through Friday between 5 and 7 p.m. in the Zinc Blues Cellar has the best quality-to-cost ratio in town. Everything on the happy hour menu—crispy duck confit egg rolls, seared ahi tuna with ginger rémoulade, a trio of bruschettas, to name a few—is just $5, while a monthly lineup of very drinkable wines-by-the-glass hover in the $3 range. Happy, indeed. (LM)

Best Place To Fill Your Rx

Sure it’s a chain, but Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy is too innovative to ignore. Situated in the Trader Joe’s/Jinja parking lot, Pharmaca is like a holistic Walgreens with natural health and beauty products. And if you tire easily of teas and tinctures, there’s an actual pharmacy for procuring hardcore meds. (LM)

Best Boutique Belt Buckles

Your pants need adornment. Nikki Zabicki, Albuquerque artist/fashionista/entrepreneur, is on a mission to change the world one pair at a time with a line of urban art pieces that fit snuggly on your belt. Her locally engineered 4-inch-by-3-inch buckles are mounted on aluminum panels, hand-painted with everything from acrylic paint to collages to screen prints, and then slathered in several coats of protective resin. Each buckle is light and durable and, more importantly, they’re just as unique as you are. Details at (LM)

Best Way To Get Your Five-A-Day

Los Poblanos Organics is a community-supported agriculture project that farms organic fruits and vegetables right here in the fertile North Valley of Albuquerque, packs them in boxes and delivers them, weekly or bimonthly, right to your home. The cost is comparable to a trip to the health food store—about $31 a pop. (Or, pay $26 and pick up your own box from one of several points in Albuquerque, Placitas and Santa Fe.) A box is calculated to supply a family of four with fresh produce for a week, and boxes are available year-round. Log on to to sign up. (LM)

Most Heartless Waste Of Your Tax Dollars

As Matt, a young San Franciscan (by way of Queens), sang about the hill in Kentucky where Daniel Boone is buried, the Santa Fe Railway found its way into his music. We were at a small concert in a music shop not far from the tracks. The train, a constant presence in the city I love, the very thing responsible for the city’s existence as we know it, brayed intermittently through the rain. The sound was a mournful, swelling chorus made from rattling air and the memory of coal dust. It was beautiful. Matt’s song ended, but the train whistle lingered on afterward. We waited for the sound to fade into its terminus, afraid to break the entwined spell of the train-song with our applause until the room was silent.

Achingly silent.

Soon there’ll be no train whistles at all. A few private interests see the heartbeat of the neighborhood, of the city itself, as a threat to their earning potential. And, to add insult to injury, we’re all paying for it—to the tune of $2.7 million from our own tax dollars. It’s shameful. Over the next five years, "quite zones" constructed along the Albuquerque stretch of the railroad will snuff out the voice of more than 125 years of our history. It’s an impractical (to say nothing of the tried-and-true safety standards it derails) waste of taxpayer dollars. But most of all, it’s just heartbreaking.

Now every time the train rumbles by, I prick my ears up; painfully aware that each whistle may be the last I ever hear. Rest in peace, you old piece of my heart. (LM)

Best ’80S Flashback

What’s better than enjoying pizza and beer on a nice patio? Enjoying pizza and beer on a nice patio whilst being wisked away, back to the days of your youth when the B52s hadn’t been played to death, Michael Jackson was pure and Rick Springfield was the definition of awesome. (Though I suppose Rick Springfield is still pretty awesome.) Either way, we’d like to thank JC’s for the trip down Electric Avenue lane. (JCC)

Best Reason To Use Public Transportation When You Go Downtown

What happens when you show up Downtown to find massive trailers and movie stars are taking up your parking space? You curse yourself, knowing this all could have been prevented had you taken the bus. You have to wonder why all the movies shoot Downtown, anyway? Why not Nob Hill or Tijeras? Sheesh. (JCC)

Most Tragically Underused Art Space

Clean, comely and … blank. I walked into The Orpheum for the Revolutions festival-ending Reptilian Lounge and was astonished. Here was a great building with a decent parking lot slightly off the beaten path but still close to Downtown. Second Street and Lead doesn’t seem a likely corner for froofy art and music types, but those unexpected spaces are where the best art happens.

A long hall with walls begging for edgy photography led to a big room. High ceilings and decent acoustics made unamplified theater performances there a snap. The Tuvan throat-singers rang out, the plugged in Melismatics didn’t echo and feedback. Imagine the all-ages shows or a crazy installation, a sculpture garden or crafty workshops in this roomy space. I did—and do. There has been a smattering of shows here over the last couple years, but the space seems to be begging for more regular programming. (MD)

Radio Station We Most Wish Would Broadcast In Albuquerque

This employee-owned station fired up July 4, 2006, with its "Declare Your Independence from Corporate Radio" campaign. The FCC’s expansion of ownership regulations many years ago make it incredibly rare for such a free-form for-profit station to exist. Indie’s disc jockeys play whatever they want, including local music. Perusing through their playlist, available at, you’ll find Chemical Brothers, Relix, Echo and The Bunnymen, Flag and, really, anything.

I know this is supposed to be the Best of
Burque issue, but if Indie 101.5 could be found on Albuquerque’s dial, it would be the best. In the meantime, we’ll just have to stream the station via its website. (MD)

Most Patient With English-Only Customers

The kind employees at La Michoacana will walk you through the ropes, pointing at the vast array of iced deliciousness and smiling helpfully when you ask for 20 paletas instead of two. Dos —that’s two. Veinte —that’s 20. But you might as well order 20 fruity treats, surrounded by cream, sometimes sour and never chemically sweet. It’s the best popsicle you’ll ever have. They also serve ice cream and a frozen-milk dessert, along with chocolate-dipped frozen bananas on sticks or Frito pie served right in the bag of Fritos (or Doritos, if you like). On top of that, it’s all pretty kind to your wallet. There are three locations: 3608 Isleta SW, 6500 Zuni SE and 6335 Central NW. (MD)

Best Home For Your Unbearably Loud Band Rehearsals

Owner Michael Burke’s not kidding with the name. You can bruise your delicate drums to your volume-loving heart’s content at the gargantuan Bleeding Eardrum rehearsal studio space, a 5,000-square-foot home to the loudest of the loud. Burke converted the building into 10 practice spaces and a half-pipe skateboard ramp. The Eardrum also hosts the occasional live all-ages show. Prices aren’t bad either, some of the lowest in town for what you get. $10 an hour gets you practice amps and a drum set. Monthly rooms are available for $1 a square foot. (MD)


AD: Amy Dalness; CC: Christie Chisholm; DO’L: Devin O’Leary; JCC: Jessica Cassyle Carr; LM: Laura Marrich; MD: Marisa Demarco; SRA: Steven Robert Allen

Best Homegrown Sports League

It takes some kind of crazy will to start up a whole sports league based on a sport only oldsters really remember, but that’s exactly what Nan Morningstar, founder of the Duke City Derby, did. These days, I have trouble imagining Albuquerque without its derby girls, fierce competitors with the mentalities of killers—not to mention the really cute outfits. Representing Albuquerque on the road and at home, every season they get a little better at what they’re doing with crowds turning out in bigger droves. Get your roller derby on this season, which begins on April 14. (MD)
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