Plucked from the bulldozer’s path and renovated to a high shine, the El Vado is a proud piece of once-crumbling Route-66-era Americana given new life. In terms of casual dining, the options abound. Lining the outdoor plaza from the east to the west there’s a half dozen food pods serving varying fare, so there’s a little something for just about everyone. Depending on when you go, the eclectic hours mean some spots might not be open—but think of that as a reason to go again. Sandia Crust Pizza Company For a lunch or dinner, you’ll find plenty to love at Sandia Crust Pizza Company. Their crust is an absolute standout, a cross between the salt of a sourdough with a rustic, savory cornmeal dusting—meaning, like the El Vado itself, you know your pizza will be built well from the bottom up. The sauce of the BBQ chicken pizza ($8.25) was smoky but light, with hunks of chicken, onions and cilantro. The Mediterranean pizza ($8.25) was salty and earthy with a mix of ground lamb, olives, feta and eggplant. I was especially impressed when a hand-built vegan option was offered and the waitstaff even remembered to ditch the obligatory parmesan on the side—an attentive and thoughtful move. The 7" small pizza was enough for a big appetite, but left lighter appetites with a cold leftover slice or two. Bosque Burgers Bosque Burgers serves up serious eats for serious appetites. The Cubano ($10) was a double layer of ham and thin-sliced pork loin, sliced pickle and a mild Swiss with a mustard that delivers a salty, luscious bite. The kitchen sink burger ($12) was everything but, so lightweights need not apply! Both were served with cantaloupe, a sturdy coleslaw and a dill pickle spear. The panko-crusted fried mac and cheese ($3) caught my eye—served with either ranch or buffalo sauce. It was silky, but light enough to avoid feeling heavy. The combination of the crunchy and creamy was perfect. Happy Chickenzz The lightly fried batter of the shut your mouth chicken (2 pieces for $3.99, 4 for $6.99, 8 for $12.99) was the first thing I noticed. So often the batter-and-fry job is needlessly dense, burying the flavors in flour and fat. Not so here. They also offer a fine fried okra ($3.99), an oft-ignored but tasty Southern staple that’s done up just right. On the lighter side, the souky salad with chicken ($11) came with a truly unique, sweet-and-savory vinaigrette over generous hunks of greens, herbs, veggies and strips of grilled chicken. Buen Provecho New Mexico is a northern gateway for all things South and Central American, which means we’ve got some damn fine Latin dining options, and Buen Provecho is no exception. For breakfast don’t miss the gallo pinto ($8)—a tremendous blend of beans and rice over a banana leaf, topped with an egg, broccoli and microgreens with a thick, homemade corn tortilla and some downright amazing fried sweet plantains. If you want more heat, the carnitas burrito ($8) features eggs, beans, rice, tomato and onion, all wrapped in a tortilla and seared on the outside. It comes with a fiery Tabasco-esque salsa that locals will celebrate! Wash it down with a cafe con leche ($3.50), a bright and creamy sip of deep steeped coffee softened by condensed milk. Rollin’ On In The handmade tortillas at Rollin’ On In—both corn and flour—are show-stoppers, and the cheese-crusted tortilla around the #8 burrito with pork and red chile ($9) is a crispy, crunchy wonder. The red is better than the green, and the spice of both is more tourist level, so locals would be wise to hit up their hot sauce cart to ramp up your lunch or dinner. The #5 taco trio with a shredded chicken, shredded pork and veggie taco ($9) was a winner … with the pork as the favorite, and a dark-horse second-place showing for the surprising and sturdy veggie taco. It features zucchini, cauliflower, eggplant and onion. Zendo Coffee If you’re determined to beat the crowds by arriving early, then Zendo’s zia latte ($4.50) is just the thing to wake you up proper. Try it with the white chocolate if you’re looking for that sweet and creamy kick. Then again, early doesn’t necessarily mean cool, so until fall hits, maybe the iced cold brew ($4) is the way to go. As non-acidic and easy-drinking as coffee gets, plus it’s cold and caffeinated—need I say more? If avoiding animal products, take a golden milk ($4) with macadamia milk steeped with turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne, black pepper and cardamom—a delightful break from the ordinary morning flavors. They also have breakfast burritos ($5) courtesy of Sister Bar, and pastries including vegan options. El Vado Tap Room/El Vado Pretzels With both beer and air conditioning, the El Vado Tap Room will certainly be a crowd favorite. They serve up cold beers from Ponderosa Brewing and happily encourage food delivery from their plaza neighbors. Attached to the brewery and featuring a patio-side walk-up window is El Vado Pretzels. Try the hot and cheesy ($6.99) in which the spicy queso is the gooey, sumptuous star. The pretzel itself is soft, with the pop of sliced jalapenos and a quick melt of grated cheese to hold it together. Dunked in the queso, it makes a perfect snack to take the edge off your beer. El Vado is just enough off the beaten path to surprise while still a quick jaunt from Old Town, the Sawmill District and Downtown. The assortment of shops and food spots line an intimate but airy patio dotted with tables and planters. There’s a kid-friendly water feature in the thoughtful and elegant remodel, and architecturally they’ve kept the sturdy bones of the vintage structure, staying true to her roots as an old motor hotel. ¡ Muy amable ! During the dead of summer it will likely be "if-it-wasn’t-so-hot-it-would-be-super-chill," but—from eats, to shops, to the hotel and performance space, even apartments—the ambitious El Vado has plenty to offer.
El Vadoelvadoabq.com/restaurants2500 Central Ave. SW361-1667 Alibi Recommends : Not a bad dish to be found, but whatever you do get, find a cool, shady spot to eat it in. Vibe : Nana wisely described it as "Santorini—southwest-style" and I couldn't agree more.