A Drinkable Feast: Il Vicino
 Alibi V.24 No.10 • March 5-11, 2015 

A Drinkable Feast

These Beers are Il (Vicino)

Pizza and brew across Albuquerque

Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Il Vicino has been on the typical Burque denizen and casual diner’s radar for a couple decades now. A stalwart among an ever-shifting landscape of hot new spots and the cancer of chain restaurants, Il Vicino has been churning out some of Albuquerque's best grub and best local beers for over two decades. In the restaurateur game, this is no small feat. So how are they doing it? ADF decided to drop by all of the Albuquerque locations and see for ourselves.

Nob Hill (3403 Central NE)

If it's a quick sit-down for you and your someone, or a little get-together before taking in an art flick at the Guild, the original Nob Hill location is the perfect setting. The smallest of Il Vicino’s spaces, it boasts a long, thin corridor of tables, mainly two- and four-tops, along with a smattering of bar seats and a few outdoor tables. The long-standing menu—brick-oven pizzas, salads, sandwiches—is sizable. And while beginning where it all began, we opted for a classic: the pepperoni pizza—simply pepperoni, marinara, mozzarella and fresh oregano. The pepperoni is spicy without being greasy, the cheese and thin crust both fire-charred just so, and the bright, herbaceous snap of fresh oregano make this simple pizza a thing of beauty.

The Pigtail Pilsner was the perfect pint to complete this sumptuous triptych. It's cool, clean with a roasted caramel color and an effervescent pop—as easy-drinking as a beer gets.

Share it over the first Il Vicino beer I fell for way back in the mid ’90s: the Slow Down Brown. It was, without a doubt, the first locally brewed pint that insisted the drinker stop and take notice. Toasted, chocolatey and smooth, it’s been Il Vicino’s “most decorated” beer at many competitions over the years. In fact, it helped put Albuquerque’s brew scene on the map with a World Beer Cup Gold Medal in 1996.

Heights (11225 Montgomery NE)

Maybe you prefer an afternoon spent shopping or puttering around the foothills? If so, the Northeast Heights location—with its giant, raging lion’s head of an oven—should suit you fine. As with all locations, the feel is upscale without being haughty or highfalutin’. And with wandering to do, why not carbo-load yourself on the penne alfredo. Cream sauces are notoriously difficult. Too often the cream and cheese in a white sauce descends upon the palate like doom. But not here. The al dente pasta is sturdy enough to hold up to the aged parmesan flavor, and the sauce stays creamy without gut-punch. For my taste, I wanted a bit more salt in the sauce, and no dish is complete without some red pepper flake. Thankfully, both were readily available—though on the side—as apparently not everyone shares my affliction. For beer, I took a Wet Mountain IPA, hoping the pungent, hoppy tang would cut through the spice and the earthy cheese and butter flavor. I think I’d pair it differently next go ‘round, though. The IPA was just too big for the dish. Guess this cheapjack gourmand still has a lot to learn.

Westside (10701 Corrales NW)

Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
How about a drive through the North Valley or out to Corrales? With a spacious, outdoor dining area looking over the city to the Sandias, the Westside Il Vicino has space to spare and rarely much of a wait. The building is bright, airy and touches on the industrial. Here I had the hero piadine and a caesar salad. The sandwich is a wonder: salami, capocollo, dijon mayo, two cheeses and a cache of fresh greens and veggies all nestled in giant folds of flatbread. And the caesar? Two words: real anchovies. The buttery garlic croutons and vibrant romaine commingle with my odds-on favorite for best caesar dressing, making this simple, sharp and creamy beast one of the finest salads in town. And even though ADF has hailed its virtues before, the Pigtail Pilsner was the perfect pint to complete this sumptuous triptych. It's cool, clean with a roasted caramel color and an effervescent pop—as easy-drinking as a beer gets.

Canteen Brewhouse (2381 Aztec NE)

Say you want beer—many beers, award-winning beers that you can’t get anywhere else. The recently rebranded Canteen Brewhouse is your spot. Beer is king here, as well it should be. And the brews are wide-ranging, award-winning, inventive and damnably delicious. Deciding which beers to mention is definitely a Sophie’s Choice—but the good news is, it’s hard to go wrong. Most intriguing on my visit were a Tequila Barrel IPA and a Belgian Wine Barrel Golden. The trend to age beers in barrels is one ADF wholly endorses, and both of these deliver complex, layered flavors as a result. The Tequila Barrel IPA was slightly cloudy with a light head and mild tequila notes that finished with a little burn. The Belgian Wine Barrel Golden was a mellow, low carbonated bite with soft hints of white wine and a silky finish.

Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
The menu here tends toward appetizers and panini-pressed sandwiches, without forgetting some salads and lighter fare. The Frenchy (smoked pork loin, melted brie, caramelized onions and fiery mayo) was a surprise and a delight. While you’re there, beg anyone who’ll listen to bring back the Fog Nozzle. I only got to try it once before it was gone, and much to my dismay, it’s a huge and smoky brew that demands to be supped a few times to fully appreciate.

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: Be it beer or food, Il Vicino strives to achieve true balance—and they rarely miss. Year in and year out, Il Vicino does exactly that—outpacing upstarts and the glut of chain restaurants. To anyone hungry for a quick, high-quality meal that supports a local franchise—I say you’re not far from an Il Vicino, so hop to it. Your tummy will say "grazie!"