Restaurant Review: Vara Wines

Vara Preps Food Service Launch

Dan Pennington
6 min read
Vara-way From Ordinary
Look at that cream dollop and tell me your mouth didn’t start watering. (Eric Williams Photography)
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One of my favorite things about Albuquerque is our food truck scene. Several magical factors came together to cause the explosion of food trucks we saw out here. First off, we had more craft breweries pop up than we knew what to do with, and most opted out of doing any food service at all. Second, processing credit cards outside of a storefront became very easy with the rise of Square and other card-processing apps. Third, many people found that a shift away from traditional dining experiences was happening, and being able to set up wherever they wanted allowed them to continually reach new markets. All of this is being done at a significantly reduced cost compared to opening a full restaurant, and it makes a lot of sense why it became a bit of a overnight phenomenon.

I mention this because one of my all-time favorite food trucks, Malagueña’s Latin Tapas, which has been making waves in the local food truck scene since 2017, made a surprising announcement recently: They found a permanent home at Vara Wines. While a part of me is sad I won’t be able to accidentally stumble onto them while out drinking, a pleasant surprise made to brighten my evening, I couldn’t be more excited that they’ve partnered to develop a full-time food program for Vara.

They’ve been doing a brunch service for a month at Vara, but I hadn’t yet had a chance to check it out. This weekend was my first time at the Vara winery, though I’m familiar with their wines. Vara has been part of the New Mexico community since 2014, specializing in Spanish and American wines. They’ve done a wonderful job getting out into the community, especially with local restaurants, and that has helped to cement them as a recognizable brand in New Mexico. Pulling up to the winery, I see the familiar truck parked next to the patio, with food coming out of the back at a remarkable pace and a sizeable crowd in the dining area.

Malagueña’s was the creation of Javier and Molly Montaño, who are the most delightful people you could ever hope to meet. Talking with them, you can tell that food is their passion. From the best and freshest ingredients to bringing exciting new flavors to life with local flair, the food on offer is a true breath of fresh air in the culinary scene that is rarely seen to this extent around town.

Take for example their Papas Bravas ($5). On the surface, it’s fried Yukon gold potatoes with a smoked tomato aioli. That changes the second it hits your tongue, when the spices that are tossed in take over. Immediately a soft heat consumes your mouth, and you feel your taste buds come alive. You’ve never had potatoes seasoned so perfectly before—where you’re not overwhelmed but delighted by the combination of flavors from just the seasoning. Immediately after, the aioli comes through and cools that heat just enough to bring you back safely from the journey your mouth just took. This happens on every single bite, and you feel a hole in your heart when you see the tub empty. No fried potato should be this amazing.

Thankfully, they brought a glass of Vara’s Garnacha Rosado, a delicate rose with a more intensely dark color than you normally see in a rosé. It was fruity, strong-bodied and honestly very refreshing. Not one to try a scene by pounding a glass of wine, I continued to nurse it as the rest of the food arrived.

Speaking of, the Spanish French Toast ($7) hit the table, and I couldn’t believe the size of it. There were five or six slices coated in cinnamon sugar, surrounded by strawberries and topped with a huge dollop of cava whipped cream. The toast itself was heavenly, with a light crunch on the outside and a soft interior, and the coating of the cinnamon sugar helped accentuate the taste of the bread. Add the huge, fresh strawberries into the mix with the cream all in one bite, and you could find yourself transported to a happy place, free of the cares of the world. It’s not like any other French toast I’ve had before, with the sweetness factor kicked up a notch to something delightful and sublime.

At the same time, I was delivered the Ceviche Mixto ($15) and a glass of the Silverhead Brut Cava. Not one to turn away a glass of anything with alcohol in it, I first had to stop and marvel at the sight of it. With a rich golden color and the signature excess of bubbles that cavas are known for, it was a truly picturesque drink. A gorgeous crown on top, it was light and reminded me of a high-end champagne; as well it should, as cava and champagne share a lot of similarities but the distinct difference is that cava is typically slightly fruitier while not as intensely dry as most champagnes. The Silverhead Brut was the perfect drink to accompany a Sunday brunch.

The Ceviche Mixto was on a whole other level though. Featuring Hamachi yellowtail tuna, shrimp, charred lime, aji amarillo, a chile coconut juice, and cucumber, onion and chicarrones, this dish was stunning. The lime and coconut juice never once overpowered the flavor of the fish, only helping accentuate natural flavors present in the dish. I’m not big on fish normally, but this was so fantastic and clearly fresh that I couldn’t stop myself from going back for another bite. You would be doing a disservice to yourself by not trying it when you’re there.

So, what’s next for Javier and Molly? On May 1, they are officially launching full dinner service on top of their brunch offerings on Sunday, while continuing to offer paella on special Friday nights. It’s hard to imagine two people being able to create such a diverse offering without slipping somewhere, yet they manage to continually impress and exceed any reasonable expectation for excellence, providing some of the best food in this city. I’m looking forward to spending more time at Vara Wines and eating my way to happiness.

Vara Wines

315 Alameda Blvd. NE


Hours: Sunday Noon-3, Wednesday - Friday 5-8pm

Vibe: Laid back get-together spot for group outings

Alibi Recommends: Everything. But especially the Ceviche Mixto and Papas Bravas.


Eric Williams Photography

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