Alibi V.24 No.44 • Oct 29-Nov 4, 2015 

The Mouthful

Date Night Dining

A night out at the National Hispanic Cultural Center

Dating in Albuquerque is easy. Yeah, you heard me right. I’m not talking about the painstaking task of finding a decent catch or the more arduous process of cultivating a relationship. I’m talking about the actual date itself, a concept I fear is losing ground in a time when “Netflix and chill” is apparently a thing.

Let me make it even easier on you and start with a prime source of inspiration: the National Hispanic Cultural Center at 1701 Fourth Street SW.

Located in the Barelas neighborhood, the Center offers a bit of everything you could want for a date, including films, plays, performances, music and art celebrating all aspects of Hispanic culture. And did I mention food?

There are two great dining options available to you right on site, either of which makes for a solid start to a date.

First is M’Tucci’s Cocina Grill (not to be confused with M’Tucci’s Kitchina Italiano on the Westside) featuring cuisine from all over Latin America. The kitchen is only open for dinner service Thursday through Saturday. That’s also when most shows in the main auditorium are scheduled, making it the perfect place to take a date before catching a play, a concert, or, my personal favorite, a flamenco performance.

The food is excellent, though a little meat-centric and probably not the best place to take your new vegetarian boyfriend or girlfriend. The menu jets all over Latin America with items like duck ceviche from Peru, moqueca from Brazil and Yucatan pork from Mexico.

There are two great dining options available to you right on site, either of which makes for a solid start to a date.

For a more playful dining choice, there’s Pop Fizz, offering ice cream tacos and real fruit paletas. The Alvarez family recently started serving booze-based paletas as an off-menu special.

I met my date outside of the Pop Fizz entrance, right next to the recently installed BICI bike share rack. If someone were athletically inclined, they might consider adding a scenic bike ride on the nearby Paseo del Bosque trail to their itinerary. Not me. Instead, my date and I made haste inside to check out the lineup of cocktail-inspired treats. I picked a piña colada pop while my date chose the Moscow mule flavor. We could also have selected a sangria or mimosa paleta. What neither of us expected was the punch these pops packed. Each paleta contains roughly a shot of alcohol and it was noticeable in both flavor and effect. Treat these popsicles the way you’d treat a cocktail; enjoy responsibly and don’t try to leave with it as they are legally the equivalent of carrying an open container of alcohol. Instead, enjoy inside with an order of carne asada fries.

After imbibing our paletas, we set out toward the gallery.

Admission to the art museum is a mere $3 for adults and more than worth it. But if you’d rather put the money toward, say, a sangria paleta, go on Sunday when admission is free. At least that’s what we did.

There are always plenty of cheap or free activities at the center as you can discover on the website. A suggested $5-10 donation will get you and your date beginner or intermediate salsa lessons when available. Subtitled Spanish films play for free most Thursday evenings in the Bank of America Theatre thanks to Instituto Cervantes, which also offers Spanish classes at the center. And you should absolutely make time to visit on the weekend when the Torreón is open to the public.

When I first stepped inside the tower on the northeast side of the premises, the 360-degree artwork left me downright dizzy. Federico Vigil’s “Mundos de Mestizaje” is the very model of a must-see art installation in Albuquerque. The Santa Fe artist’s vision of history took 10 years to complete, using the complex “buon fresco” technique. Guides inside are happy to explain the process in detail as well as handle any other questions that will undoubtedly arise. Reclining chairs are provided to ease the strain of constantly craning your neck upward. When you go, give yourself an ample amount of time to appreciate the work inside. It took the artist a decade to complete; you can give it at least an hour of your time. If your date doesn’t want to stick around that long, take it as a sign and let them leave.