Alibi V.23 No.49 • Dec 4-10, 2014 

Restaurant Review

Steak and Spirits

High Noon Restaurant and Saloon

Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
The High Noon Restaurant and Saloon is haunted. Or so someone told me once, though I don’t remember the particulars of the story. Was it a spectral woman, I wondered as I drove into Old Town, who drifted through with the scent of cheap perfume every year on Mother’s Day? No, that was the old Las Mañanitas restaurant in the North Valley, which has since become a ghost itself. Was it a little boy with no shadow who demurely begs for sweet treats? No, that’s the KiMo Theatre. Was it a possessed piano that sometimes plinks out a note or two on its own? No, that’s the Albuquerque Press Club. But yes, somebody once told me something. So when I walked into the low-ceilinged adobe and brick foyer, the first thing I asked the hostess was, “Is there a ghost here?”

“Oh, yes,” she answered, seeming slightly bored. “The guys from the Albuquerque ghost tour were just in here with their equipment.” Our hostess clarified that she hadn’t seen the phantom herself, though she added she’s nervous about using the ladies room, one of its favorite haunts. Certainly the building itself lends a certain credence to this vague spook story. It’s an ancient adobe home built in 1783 with low ceilings and thick walls. The first room past the foyer is a shadowy space where carved wooden santos peer out from niches in the wall. In the next room, the ceiling vaults upwards into a spacious dining area, but even here there are oddities: Ceramic lamps hang from above, their perimeter decorated with eerie masks, light pouring from open eyes and mouths.

“Oh, yes,” she answered, seeming slightly bored. “The guys from the Albuquerque ghost tour were just in here with their equipment.” Our hostess clarified that she hadn’t seen the phantom herself, though she added she’s nervous about using the ladies room, one of its favorite haunts.

But no apparitions materialized as we were taken to our seat in a cozy corner of the main dining room and handed menus. With an eye out for paranormal appearances, we delved into the starters. The tres amigos ($12) is a triptych of salsa, guacamole and queso, each in its own tostada bowl. The queso is the standout here, light bodied, nearly fluffy in fact, with a creamy richness far from the usual processed cheddar you find in such dishes. Next we tried the red chile beef bites ($10). A tenderloin cut’s worth of flash-fried cubes arrives swimming in a buttery red chile sauce with a flour tortilla on the side. The beef is soft and rich with a spicy marinade and a sweetness the server told me comes from a brown sugar glaze. One peculiar addition to the appetizer menu is a brie empanada ($11) that’s far more suited to dessert, so more about that later.

Plaza platter
Plaza platter
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Since we were at a real saloon, we took the opportunity to order a round. The house specializes in margaritas, and there are a half dozen to choose from, at various price points and with various additions (prickly pear, agave nectar, etc.). But take a tip: If you want a real, old-fashioned margarita (no mixers, no—gag—lime simple syrup), ask for the tradicional. It’s no longer on the menu because the world is falling into darkness, but the bartender is still happy to whip one up for you.

With a traditional margarita, a traditional New Mexican combinación platter only makes sense. The Plaza platter ($16) comes with a taquito, a cheese enchilada, a pork tamale and a relleno stuffed with tender pork rib meat. Order it with the smoky, cumin-touched red chile. The enchiladas here are flat and cooked in a bit of oil to give them some toothiness.

If your habits run more toward a naked carnivorism than tradition, the braised short rib ($13 at lunch, $22 for a plateful during dinner) is a sure bet. Super tender pork that falls apart in your mouth with a sweet, slightly fruity peach barbecue sauce and served on a bed of green chile mashed potatoes (which, after tasting, has forever changed my perspective on mashed potatoes), this is a must try. At dinner the meat options expand with several steaks, including a brown sugar-cured tenderloin ($30). The touch of caramelized sweetness sets off the rich meat and gives each bite a pleasing interest.

High Noon has some interesting traditions.
High Noon has some interesting traditions.
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
My wife was happy to try the fish tacos, one of her passions, and she assured me that they were some of the best she’s had. The particular fish used in them changes with the market. There’s also a solid hamburger for a lunch bite or a less costly dinner option and some exotic (for us land-lubbers anyway) twists on New Mexican standards like shrimp enchiladas.

Then comes the penultimate question: “Did you save room for dessert?” We had to unbutton our jeans and steel ourselves mentally, but we said “Yes.” And I am glad. We had a difficult time choosing among favorites like flan and tres leches cake, but in the end we decided to try something more unusual. At our server’s recommendation, we ordered our meal-closer from the appetizer menu: the aforementioned brie empanadas ($11). Two triangular, flaky pastries stuffed with, naturally, brie, drizzled over with a slightly spicy apricot-and-green-chile chutney and garnished with roasted garlic. I guess I understand that the savory aspects may be unsuitable for some diners’ idea of dessert, but for us it was a revelation. The spicy, garlicky and sweet tastes fight for just a moment on the tongue, but the brie acts as a referee and settles the contrasts into a flavorful, exotic harmony. It would be a shame to start a meal with this delight rather than leave the restaurant with its taste still on your tongue. But to each their own.

Brie empanada
Brie empanada
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
All in all, I have only one complaint about High Noon, but it’s an important one. The service on my visits has been pretty inconsistent. On our dinner trip, it was snappy and efficient, but lunchtime tends toward the languid. My recommendation is to come with some patience and no pending appointments. I’m not sure what the reason is for this sluggishness, but understaffing seems like a probable culprit. If only that ghost could carry a tray.

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High Noon Restaurant and Saloon

425 San Felipe NW
765-1455
highnoonrestaurant.com

Hours: 11am to close, Monday to Saturday
Noon to close, Sundays
Vegetarian options: Yes
Paranormal activity? In the bathrooms and by the bar
Vibe: Quaint and ever so slightly spooky
Extras: Happy hour and live music

The Alibi recommends: Plaza platter, braised short ribs, beef tenderloin, brie empanadas