Restaurant Review: Shark Reef Café

Shark Reef Café

Ari LeVaux
5 min read
Window view
(Eric Williams)
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If you’ve ever taken children to a restaurant with a fish tank, you probably know what a double-edged sword that can be. A fish tank can be a good distraction, especially if it’s close enough to your table that the kids can enjoy it from their seats. Otherwise, they will leave their seats and crowd the tank, and even attempt to communicate with those poor fishes via crude means. I know from my own personal research, conducted when I was 8 years old, that if you pound hard enough on the side of a fish tank, it will break, and the room will flood. This memory puts me on edge when my kids bang on restaurant tanks in hopes of attracting the occupants’ attention.

Part of what makes the Shark Reef Café so refreshing is it has a fish tank that takes this principle to an extreme at the good end of the spectrum: all the upside of a tank, without the downside. The entire 20-ft.-tall east wall of the dining room is a solid pane of glass. There are many tank-side tables, and the tank is visible from anywhere in the room. Also, the glass is a foot or two thick, which is a good thing considering the number of hungry looking sharks prowling around on the other side.

The Shark Reef Café is located at the Albuquerque BioPark Aquarium and positioned so you don’t need a ticket to the park to get in. In addition to the large shark tank wall, there are smaller tanks, filled with fish that wouldn’t last long in a shark tank, sunken into the other walls of this beautiful dining room.

These tanks aren’t the only kid-friendly virtue of the Shark Reef Café. There are crayons to use on the butcher-paper tablecloths, sippy cups with reef designs, an extensive kids’ menu and lots and lots of kids running around. And the service is provided by mere kids as well, just a few years older than the ones writing on the fish tank glass with crayons. This results in situations like a line of people waiting impatiently by the “Please wait to be seated” sign at the entrance, the staff nowhere to be found. Finally, an impatient diner at the front of the line walked into the kitchen to get some service, and we were then all seated. The waiter proceeded to take four tables’ worth of orders, chatting amiably at each stop, without bringing the orders to the kitchen in between. Meanwhile, another server stood curiously by the kitchen door observing and doing nothing.

But as amateur as the service was, it was nonetheless friendly and well-intentioned. And most importantly, the menu was clearly designed by a grown-up, as evidenced by all of the kale available. There is a fantastic chopped kale salad, flavored with crumbled cheese and roasted red peppers, a kale-laced hamburger “with a twist,” shredded kale on the fish tacos and even a side of kale that consists solely of naked, raw pieces of kale, as if it were some condiment that you dump on your food to make it taste better.

The kale was cool, but the star of the show was the large, beer-battered chunks of cod, which were found in the fish and chips and the fish tacos. These flaky, juicy morsels were good enough to make me wonder how they came to be so well-preserved and prepared so far from the sea. But, being an aquarium it seems right that the Shark Reef Café might have good connections with fishmongers.

Underneath their blanket of shredded kale and carrots, the fish tacos were packed with more of that beer-battered fish and drizzled with a chile aioli. They were large and delicious, and there were three of them.

Another salad, which did not contain kale, nonetheless demonstrated a culinary touch that suggested an ecological and geographical sensibility that I appreciated. It was a New Mexico-style caprese salad that featured a generous scattering of pine nuts atop the olive oil-drizzled tomato, basil and mozzarella. Sure, the pine nuts were probably from China, but they could have been New Mexican, and that’s worth something. And there was plenty of good green chile available for your needs.

I also appreciated the cardboard take-out boxes—it’s distressing how many restaurants use Styrofoam. At a place that is tuned into nature and ecology, this shouldn’t be a surprise, but it’s nonetheless reassuring to see ecological priorities in action, and it’s a good example for the children, even if they’re focused on the turtles, lionfish and sharks passing inches away from their dessert sampler.

The Shark Reef Café is a place where the parental units can relax and eat their kale, secure in the knowledge that their children won’t break anything or disturb anyone. And if you show up at the Shark Reef Café without kids, you’ve been warned. You’re a visitor in this ecosystem; it’s on you to respect the local customs.

Shark Reef Café

2601 Central NW

Albuquerque Biopark Aquarium (accessible off the plaza and parking lot, no entrance ticket necessary)


Hours: 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday

9am to 6pm Saturday and Sunday

Booze: No

Vibe: Kid-friendly

Extras: Fish, and lots of them

The Alibi recommends: Fish ‘n chips, fish tacos, kale salad

Turtle by your table

Eric Williams

Dine with the Fishes

Fish tacos

Eric Williams

Shark Reef Cafe

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