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)
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.
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!"