It must be tough to try and make a straight-forward, nearly ubiquitous food item stand out from the crowd. Consider the hamburger: I mean, what do you do? You can add more and stranger things on top of it—barbecue sauce and cherries, perhaps—or use a fancy beef with a catchy and exotic sounding name—wagyu or kobe—or you can start making it out of things that stretch the definition of the name, like wild boar or rattlesnake. Or—and why not?—you can turn it inside out.This is the route Central Grill and Coffee House elected to pursue with its signature, if not-so-originally-named, Inside-out burger. A plain looking patty on a bun is served with the usual accoutrements—lettuce, pickle, tomato—to the side. Take a bite and the burger erupts into an oozy magma of cheddar cheese and meat. It tastes like any good cheeseburger should, but the texture accomplishes the goal set out by the “signature” label: this is a burger that you will remember. Central Grill, which took up residence on the stretch of Central just outside of Old Town in May of last year, is one of the crop of new diners that embraces the aesthetic of yesterday’s greasy spoons while offering house-made meals with high-quality ingredients. It’s cozy—maybe too cozy when it gets busy around peak lunch time and customers seated in the front room might find themselves face-to-butt with customers waiting to order at the counter, but the size is perfect when it’s quieter. If things are too hectic inside and it’s a temperate day, try out the expansive patio where you can watch the Route 66 traffic go by and get a little more leg room at the same time.The Grill seems to have a flair for taking standard diner items and giving them enough of a twist to make them stand out while still remaining a fine specimen of their original species. Take the “crazy good” hotcakes. On the one hand, yes, they’re pancakes, but on the other they’re covered with blueberries, apple slices and, help us all, brie. Definitely memorable, although, frankly, it tips the scales a bit too much into hedonistic territory for my taste. Brie and maple syrup hit the rich and sweet buttons too hard when they’re brought together and there was definitely a moment when I was putting another forkful into my mouth that I thought to myself, “God will punish me for eating this.” I was far happier with the chilaquiles, a Mexican breakfast staple that has been gaining more prominence in Albuquerque lately. At Central Grill, the tortilla wedges are fresh fried in your choice of red or green chile (I went with red) and hiding beneath an optional cooked-to-order egg. I prefer an over-medium huevo and after cutting into it, the yolk spread beautifully over the chip-and-chile foodscape. This red packs some serious heat, but it’s the kind of heat that encourages you to eat faster so you can experience as much of the savory meal before your mouth catches fire. A side of beans and cubed breakfast potatoes completes the dish. With every item complimenting the other, the temptation to mix them all together into one spicy, cheesy, salty, eggy breakfast medley proved too strong to resist. The chile makes another appearance in the carne adovada burrito, of course, which offers up the traditional slow cooked, capsaicin-marinated pork nestled with eggs and potatoes inside a full-to-bursting tortilla. It’s a great burrito, but what surprised me the most was the price. This is a huge item and it will feed a normal sized appetite for two meals, but only costs $4.95, making it easily one of the best breakfast deals in town. Route 66 has hosted many greasy spoons over the near-century since its inception and it’s good to see that the tradition is now being kept up by the new breed of modern diners. It’s especially heartening when the food is as good and cheap as it is at Central Grill and Coffee House.
Central Grill and Coffee House2056 Central SW554-1424centralgrillcoffeealbuquerque.comHours: 6:30am to 4pm, Monday through Thursday6:30am to 8pm, Friday and Saturday8am to 2pm, SundayVibe: Modern dinerExtras: Central Avenue weirdosThe Alibi recommends: Inside-out burger, chilaquiles