Food On The Move: A New Nob Hill

Nob Hill Bar & Grill Reinvents Itself With The Help Of Nm Capital Partners

Dan Pennington
14 min read
meatloaf again
This is what all other meatloafs need to be. (Eric Williams Photography)
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There was fear in the wake of Albuquerque Rapid Transit. Our comfortable home in the heart of the city, Nob Hill, had faced struggles in the past, but the long queue of construction that disrupted the flow of Central Avenue caused what some felt was irreparable damage. What was once bustling and lively became empty. Long-time favorites started to have “for rent” signs in the windows. Nights out no longer took place there. For many, it felt like a devastating blow to a cultural touchpoint we’d all held and taken for granted for so long. But it’s over now. Where does that leave us? The age-old phrase “out with the old, in with the new” comes to mind, with respect to our now gone businesses on the avenue. With so much space made available and ART officially in service, is it time for a Nob Hill revival?

Let’s look at one street corner that’s seen a lot of change recently. Central Avenue and Bryn Mawr Drive has been host to a lot of activity recently, due in part to New Mexico Capital Partners. Part of the project included the Little Bear Coffee’s And Stuff retail collaborative that opened across the street, which is already host to a ton of small, local businesses given a chance to make a name for themselves, but across the way is an old favorite, Nob Hill Bar & Grill (3128 Central Ave. SE). I personally have a long history with them, from hosting my first-ever pub quiz there to it being the only bar my sister ever invited me out to, it’s a place of memories for me. It came as a small shock when I heard NM Capital Partners ended up buying it to do an overhaul on the whole restaurant.

We spoke with Isaac Fox, one of the co-owners of NM Capital Partners, asking what their goal was for all these additions in Nob Hill. “Our vision and purpose has always been around trying to make Albuquerque even better than it is—not saying it’s bad. But it’s like, how can we be a part of helping change that?” says Fox. When talking about who they are, Fox told us “It’s four main owners. It’s me, my brother, my dad and a family friend, Tyler. But then we’re also super open to doing partnerships with other companies too. So with Nob Hill, I knew nothing about running a kitchen, so we partnered with chef Sean Sinclair. Bandwidth is so limited, and when there’s people that are better than you at it, and you want to see the city be better, you’re like, awesome, exactly, come help us out. You gotta collaborate.” So how has the collaboration with Nob Hill Bar & Grill changed things? Checking in on it, the difference is immediately noticeable.

First off, it’s been cut in half. What once was a huge space made for dining and entertainment has shifted, becoming one focused on the food side. The divider has been turned into a bar that is much smaller than its predecessor, allowing for a more intimate experience. It’s pristine looking, with the contrast of the tall black wall of booze overlooking the white marble top bar. For the restaurant side, it’s mostly the same, still giving one a great view of Central Avenue while you sit and enjoy your meal in comfortable and elegant dining spaces. There has been a menu overhaul, courtesy of chef Sean Sinclair, a man who has made a name for himself at places like Bar Castaneda and Farm & Table. The drinks program has been reworked from the ground up, and there’s a whole other half of the building that is no longer a part of the neighborhood namesake bar and grill, making it truly unlike previous iterations.

Let’s start with the food. Broken up into Small Stuff, Big Stuff, Soups, Salads and Sweet Stuff, the format now feels straightforward. In the Small Stuff category, arguably mislabeled, was the Barbacoa Nachos ($13), featuring chipotle black beans, salsa verde, asadero cheese, scallions, pico de gallo and of course, the ever-important mountain of chips. I say it’s mislabeled because nothing about this dish is small. One of the tallest nacho presentations I have ever seen landed at the table, an intimidating meal all its own that is surely meant to be broken down by a group of four at minimum, it’s absolutely loaded in every bite with all the things you need to enjoy it. The barbacoa beef is tender and full of flavor and is found consistently throughout the heap of nachos. The cheese is perfectly melted, with no hard, burnt bits to be seen and flowing almost like a waterfall down the chips.

For dinner, I couldn’t pick between the Meatloaf ($16), the Fried Chicken ($19) or the Smash Burger ($14), so I logically picked all three. Let’s start with the Smash Burger. Featuring a brioche bun, fresh local beef, Tucumcari cheddar, a spicy special sauce of their own making and a Secco spice green chile, with the obvious lettuce, tomato and onion, this behemoth is delightful. I got it on a run to a meeting, taking it to-go in the car. I intended to have a bite before I got to driving, and finish the rest when I got there, but I confess to not putting it down once after bite one because I physically couldn’t bring myself to. It’s packed with a combination of flavors that entices the senses, leaving you full and eager to feel that sensation again. It feels better than most any burger you’ve ever had before, hitting all the good spots you want a burger to hit. The bun was a little crispy on the outside, incredibly soft on the inside and a little chewy when you start in on it. The meat is juicy, the sauce is spicy and the chile is hot. Truly, can you ask for more in a burger?

The Meatloaf was the surprise here. I’m not a fan of meatloaf, though I acknowledge it is a staple of the American dinner table. Their version is stuffed with provolone, lays atop a bed of mashed potatoes and julienned seasonal vegetables, all of which is covered in a veal demi-glace. Oh did I mention that it also has a strip of bacon wrapped around it? Because they didn’t and it was the most welcome surprise. It’s gorgeous, it’s comforting and it’s unexpected as a dish. Meatloaf has never before brought to mind the word decadent, yet somehow, this feels exactly right. It’s the meatloaf other meatloafs only aspire to be.

Finally, the Fried Chicken. When talking with someone at the bar the next day, he asked what I should order, and I told him the fried chicken, wherein I described it as “the crispiest, crunchiest skin you’ve ever had, packed full of seasoning, all holding in some of the most moist white chicken you’ve ever had, with the perfect pairing of sides and a hot sauce that doesn’t need to be there, but is so much better for existing for it.” Afterwards, he told me I undersold the dish to him. I cannot begin to tell you how highly I think of this fried chicken. With a buttermilk brine, the mashed potatoes and gravy and that incredible hot sauce, it is so incredibly good I felt shame when I couldn’t finish my second piece.

We mentioned that there was a bar on-site, and I won’t go into elaborate detail, but it does carry local beer, wine and a very sizeable selection of spirits, all of which goes together with a new cocktail menu that is jaw-dropping. I was told to try the Saturn ($10), a drink featuring gin, my least favorite staple alcohol. I was promised it would impress me if I gave it a shot. Featuring Aviator Gin, lemon juice and a passion fruit orgeat, it seemed too simple to make me overcome my distaste. Yet somehow, it was so smooth and clean that the gin wasn’t even a factor. Yes, you get a slight hit of that botanical gin taste on it, but not in the way that you would think. It’s a complement. It’s a gentle reminder that you’re drinking. But as a whole, it’s a fruity, creamy delight that might be the first gin drink I’ve ever truly enjoyed in my life.

It’s clear NM Capital Partners have a clear vision for Nob Hill Bar & Grill, a place of upscale dining and relaxation that fits perfectly in the neighborhood. Despite what ART construction had done to the neighborhood, Fox remains positive. “I’m just not the kind of guy that’s gonna go against it (ART). Either we use it or we don’t, but let’s support it and make it worth our while right? We spent the money to do something. I understand it, it changes things, and change isn’t always bad you know? We came at a very interesting time in Nob Hills story because for us we just always wanted to do something because we love it here. We’re just trying to look at it from a more positive approach and just add to what’s already here.” The memories of my time there in the past will never change, but truly, this new iteration feels like a logical move for where they should have headed all along. It’s a bold step and commitment to high-end-dining and leaving behind the middle ground it had held for so long. But what of the other half? Where did it go and why? The split becomes clear when you step inside next door and you’re transported into a craft tiki lounge. Enter Daydream, the desert cocktail oasis.

Let’s all be serious for a second. Not many of us would have expected or thought that Albuquerque needed a new tiki bar. With Burt’s long gone, there was definitely a void, but one we couldn’t easily put our finger on. Granted, old Burt’s (the fun Burt’s) was a claustrophobic dive bar that had more kitsch than you could shake a stick at. Old tiki lounge Daydream is not, as it is an intimate yet open space that feels like you’re no longer in the city. A combination of brick and wood adorns the walls, with a towering tiki shelf behind the bar and the eyes of dozens of statues staring down at the room. A combination of bar seating, booths, tables and furniture that would feel at home on a deck near a beach makes the shift from next door dramatic. It’s hard to believe they were ever connected at any point in time.

Daydream is part of the growing number of (much needed) craft cocktail lounges in the city, carving their own out nook with their rum-centric offerings. Additionally, with their staff clad in Hawaiian shirts, you instantly feel the vibe of relaxation that this place aims to create. Featuring new-era drinks, classics, non-alcoholic offerings and their shareables, it’s a lot to take in. Our time there taught us the difference between the original and the modern mai tai, a drink I had lost respect for long ago.

Take the original mai tai, for example, located in the highest spot of their classics menu. This is the Mai Tai all other Mai Tai’s originated from, in terms of style. What I thought was supposed to be a fruity, overdone concoction with a splash of rum is actually a deep and intricate drink. Featuring Jamaican rum, Martinique rum, lime, orgeat, dry curacao and Demerara ($12), this isn’t like the Mai Tai’s you’ve had. It’s more subdued, letting the rum do the lifting for the flavors and tastes you’re experiencing. You get the hints of fruity flavors from the lime and orgeat, with the dry curacao giving it a little more oomph, but overall, it’s rum making this sweet drink into a real experience.

Conversely, you’ve got their new-era take on it, the Desert Bird ($10) which features a funky white rum, lime, pineapple gomme syrup, Campari and sparkling water. This is a dramatic shift from the other drink, a night and day difference. It has dramatically more fruit to it, the rum taking the backseat this time. The pineapple gomme syrup is smooth and thick within the drink, making it have a more defined mouth feel. This is the Mai Tai you’ve come to know over the past few decades, a change to the story the original told. Either old or new, it is

Then I tried the Scorpion Bowl ($40). This is meant to be shared by four, though part of me wants to attempt to take it on as a solo participant in whatever legal way I can do so. This enormous bowl is filled with Demerara rum,
agricole rum, gin, orgeat, Demerara, orange and lime. It’s then set on fire, with cinnamon sprinkled onto the flame to give it an eruption of sparks, both festive and exciting. It’s filled with four hand-cut bamboo straws, ready for the brave group ready to attempt to drink it. It has 10 oz. of alcohol in it, which for those in the know, a standard drink has 1.5 oz. Between me, my girlfriend, our photographer and a friend, we gave it our best shot and got about a quarter of the way through it (in my defense, I’d already tried three other drinks that afternoon.) It’s sweet, it’s vibrant, the rum and gin play games together in your mouth bouncing between the sugar flavor of rum and the botanical herbal taste of gin. The orange and lime give it the fruity goodness it needs to be a drink shared between friends, and the fire is the cherry on top. It’s Instagram-ready for your night out, a perfect way to sit and catch up with old friends over a drink, literally. This is the perfect night out, all in one bowl.

Daydream and Nob Hill Bar & Grill are two sides of the same coin, in the sense that they have found the need for Nob Hill to be built back up with new ventures, one a reimagining, one a bold new addition. Both manage to stick the landing when it comes to impressing.

Maybe it’s our thinking that needs to change. Are we the ones who resist change? It can feel like being a traitor to the city sometimes when something new comes along, wanting to continue in the old habits that have become a tradition for us. We work hard to support what we love, and don’t trust the new to have earned its right to be there quite yet. We will always have fond memories of that which is gone, our favorite spots a place to reminisce and enjoy the good times we once shared there, but perhaps we need to get the move on with new memories. Our way of thinking is the “old,” and it’s time to be out with it, so we can move on to the “new,” a bold and exciting Nob Hill that looks and feels fresh.

Daydream Rum Bar

3128 Central Ave SE

Thurs-Sat: 5pm-11pm


Daydream is aesthetically one of the most relaxing spots I’ve been in this city.

Eric Williams Photography

Desert Bird

The Desert Bird is so delightful, you’ll be three in before you realize they’re so strong.

Eric Williams Photography

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