Alibi V.28 No.33 • Aug 15-21, 2019 

Restaurant Review

Ain’t No Land Like Poland

Red Rock Deli makes Poland proud

There is never a bad day for pierogi.
There is never a bad day for pierogi.
Eric Williams Photography
My early college years were interesting, to say the least, as I would assume most others feel about their own. Struggling to get by on my meager earnings while living on my own, eating something other than ramen or scrambled eggs was truly a treat. But one place captured my attention and wallet more than any other, which was Times Square Deli Mart. Truly capturing the essence of New York, it was a small market and restaurant that just made some killer sandwiches. Manny, the owner, was an absolute delight to interact with, and you could tell that love went into what he made and sold. Its eventual sale followed by a closing was devastating, as I no longer had a favorite place to get a good sandwich. And so my wandering journey into the desert of bread and meat began.

My ears perked up when I heard that a long-closed deli had reopened, but sadly, it wasn’t Times Square Deli. Instead, it was a place that someone called “Pierogi Heaven.” While not the actual name of the business, that was all I needed to hear. What I found was Red Rock Deli, a place that has been on most people’s radars for a long time, but had never crossed mine.

The new location is still on the up and up, and like most of the best places to eat in New Mexico, it’s tucked away and hidden. The tiny strip mall behind the Denny’s off of Cutler Avenue and San Mateo Boulevard houses this gem. Walking in, I instantly went back to my college days. The storefront is loaded with out of country goods; there’s a freezer with different cuts of meat and a smattering of tables within.

The menu is fully fleshed out with enough variety to suit most anyone’s dining needs, with sandwiches, soups, sausages, pierogies, desserts and more. My lunchtime investigation brought me the classic Polish sausage, the Russian roulette of pierogis, the Polish menudo and the Italian beef sandwich. And the verdict? On the whole, everything was nothing short of amazing. Every bite was a shock to my system of spices and quality I wasn’t ready for, and I overate to a degree that is nearly insane. As my good friend Victor Balbian-Flores would say, “Much like the beloved pierogi, I am also warm and full of potatoes.”

Let’s talk pierogies first. For $7.99, you get six of these amazing dumplings with a generous side of sour cream. Now maybe you weren’t as lucky as I was to have dated multiple women of Polish descent who loved making these, but in essence, they’re typically potato dumplings. The offerings here include combinations of potato, cheese, bacon, kraut, spinach, pork and mushroom. All in all, there’s 10 different styles on menu, and if you’re feeling brave or adventurous, you can order a random six rather than picking your own. “Pierogi Heaven” was right. They were soft, hot and fresh out the kitchen, comfortable in their familiarity and utterly divine. No lunch outing here would be proper if you skipped trying these.

Next up was the Polish menudo, running up a cost of $9.50, but labeled as “better than any menudo you have ever tried!” Now, this was a bold claim, considering New Mexican menudo is kind of a big deal around here. The bowl was enormous and came with a crispy French bread roll, which helped justify the cost. The big difference here is … actually, the similarities are easier to note. It’s a tripe-based dish, so skip out on the idea of posole being comparable here. This dish is essentially flaki, with beef stomach strips and seasoning to knock your face off. It’s hard not to notice the heavy use of pepper in this dish, which isn’t necessarily something I’m in love with but worked well in the dish itself.

The classic Polish sausage was an absolute steal for $5.99, featuring a sizeable sausage in a crispy French bread roll, topped with jalapeno, pickles, onions and a brown mustard. The first bite was messy bliss that consumed my mouth. The crisp snap of the pickles sent a small chill down my spine that let me know they were very fresh and helped moderate the heat from the sausage itself. The onion must have been chopped straight onto the sausage itself, because it was shockingly pungent and brought tears to my eyes, although those might have been from happiness.

This is one of the best Italian beef sandwiches I’ve ever eaten.
This is one of the best Italian beef sandwiches I’ve ever eaten.
Eric Williams Photography

Now, on these three alone, I had a monster of a meal on my hands. But I saw a table tent with an Italian beef sandwich. I mentioned that early Times Square Deli did the best sandwiches in town, and my go to was “The Godfather,” a roast beef and provolone sandwich laden with butter and garlic. The picture on that table tent was identical to this sandwich of olden days that brought me so much joy. I never had a choice. I needed to know. Could they possibly pull off a replication of a treasured part of my youth?

At $9.35, it was a touch pricier than I would have liked, but I earnestly mean it when I say this: I’d pay more for it if they asked me to, because it filled that hole in my heart. With Vienna beef, your choice of cheese, hot and/or sweet peppers and a homemade Italian gravy, this sandwich hit every important note I needed it to. The first bite was bliss, and the second was dipped in the Italian gravy. I handle spicy well. That gravy knocked me back physically a few inches from the wave of spicy heat that it hit. My face had feeling in places that haven’t felt anything in years. Before I knew it, I had finished the whole thing and was craving another, despite my stomach’s protests that it physically couldn’t fit anything else.

I never ate at the original Red Rock Deli, but I have to say I’m thrilled they’re doing a comeback tour right now. This is some of the most consistent and solid food I’ve eaten in this city. It’s not some elaborate show of presentation and crazy creation. This is tradition and love, and it’s simply sublime.