The Progress of the North
Garduños rules the Heights
Something happened when we moved to Albuquerque. And though we gained permanent access to la ciudad, all its plata and all its mierda too, inescapable exposure—like the heat here in July is inescapable—to the Northeast Heights changed us.
Noticeably, the format my family had previously employed for operating in the city—which I, as a wholesome 12-year-old had attributed to my parent’s sense of adventure—turned out to be a set of outsider's procedures meant to single out instances of recognizable comfort in an otherwise unrecognizable world.
Whenever we cruised into town from the rez, el Burque became our focus. Each part of the city had its charm, its lore, and held within its streets, shops and stations was the possibility for some arch discovery to manifest as mis parentes rolled by in their Chrysler Cordoba with Al Hurricane and The Doors blaring on the stereo.
But after we finally set down, lighting upon a sprawling development that hugged the Sandia Mountains the way a rattlesnake will hug your leg if you step on it the wrong way, all of that changed.
We stopped cruising, yo. That’s right, my old man parked the car and started taking the bus to the watermelon farm. My mother began an intense period of exhaustive examinations having to do with the retail experience happening so majestically beyond San Mateo and Montgomery.
Trips to joints like El Modelo, hell, even Baca's, became holiday-time rarities. And so my folks became ensconced by and absorbed by the thing my brother calls “gringolandia,” but is still a place much fabled and favored by me. That’s mostly due to the damn fine Nuevo Mexicano cuisine to be had up in those parts of the city where you can actually see the details of the Sandia Mountains, clear and rocky and green with forests.
One of those places has got to be Garduños.
There used to be at least five locations scattered through the Duke City, with one location way out by Ranchos de Albuquerque serving as the anchor. There were three up in the Heights. There were dark wood, low-slung tables and private booths with thriving plant life adding a living nuance to the location near Academy and San Pedro. The version up at the top of Montgomery, between Eubank and Juan Tabo, was like some colonial castle reigning over a postmodern pueblo, requerdas? Finally, there is still one location at the edge of Winrock Mall.
After we moved up to the Heights, that’s where we would go a comer con familia. Even if my German-speaking grandmother Josephine showed up at the door, you can bet my mom and dad wanted to take her to Garduños for la neta about eating delicious, nourishing soul food whilst in the midst of total suburban nothingness.
The thing was, Garduños was awesome. Back in the before time, they pretty much set the standard for how the cuisine of New Mexico is procured, prepared, presented and profited from.
That’s why I was totally excited to check in on them here in the future, when the brand has, like, totally survived tragedy and scandal to be resiliently reborn in locations outside the local orbit while still maintaining a successful local presence.
Anywho, I stopped in for lunch at the Winrock Mall location of Garduños. Inside, above the cantina, there is a big green mural advertising a beer called Moosehead, but otherwise the place is decorated to look like an invitingly rustic industrial interior. That artifice may or may not be part of the romanticized vision of Latin America common in assimilated, bourgeois enclaves. There were comforting reminders of the homeland—photos, big bright signs in Spanish—a place now generations away from some of the workers and many of the eaters inhabiting this restaurant.
It was afternoon and I was grateful to be out of the heat of the sun. The restaurant seemed remarkably cool and calmingly dark in comparison to the burning bright disaster that was outside. I was immediately seated and then the server—a pleasant young man with formal manners—quickly layed a huge grip of chips, a righteously generous portion of salsa and a life-saving 20 ounce glass of water upon my table. Mysteriously, they were out of Moosehead, but I was still astonished. I’d heard of service like this in Burque, but here it was.
Roasted, seasoned corn on the cob is a specialty of northern Mexico. I used to dig buying the real deal from the street vendors on Ocampo in Chihuahua city, but I have to admit it was pretty damn good at Garduños, too. Earthy, salty-sweet with smoky overtones and a scrumptiously crunchy affect, this elote will change your mind about what a proper side dish is, here en el norte.
Likewise, the jicama slaw was nearly life changing for my palette. It was possessed of a cool sweetness, combined with a firm, rewarding texture. Those aspects of this wondrously cooling food made it a perfect follow-up to having taken mind-altering, tongue-twisting bites of enchiladas and rellenos covered in a wickedly wise red chile sauce.
As for those same chile-soaked entrees: though not remarkably different from those I've sampled and celebrated in this here columna, I gotta say these were tasty because they were prepared with care—as if they were cooked up especially for some mythically hungry ranchero taking lonche away from the herd—with no trace of microwavery evident in their alluring presentation.
Predictably, the sopaipillas are as fresh and fine now as they were 35 years ago when mis parentes took los abuelos, Josephine and Felipe, to Garduños despues la fútbol game where residents of the city of gold took on los Matadors del Sandia. Back then, we regarded that as progress—that and a good meal in the new world.
2100 Louisana NE
Hours: Mon-Thur 11am-10pm, Fri-Sat 11am-11pm, Sun 10am-10pm
Vibe: Roomy, reassuring and relaxing
Alibi Recommends: Jicama slaw, elote, enchiladas, sopaipillas