New Mexico Restaurants

January 20, 2011

Unfortunately, I injured my hand and can’t type much for a while. So I thought I’d copy over some restaurant reviews from our October 2010 trip to New Mexico. I posted these first on my other blog, The Dog Doesn’t Die, where I have additional posts from the trip. We went to many great restaurants, which I’m going to review, and a few that were merely okay, which I’m going to leave out. Let’s get started:

Albuquerque 

Our “just flew 3/4 of the way across the country and feel zonked” restaurant in Albuquerque is the Flying Star Cafe. It’s idiot-proof (me being the idiot) and good, and there are several of them in Albuquerque. I had the excellent Blues Burger our first night in, and I’ve had other good food there over the years. It’s the perfect place to sit across from your traveling companion and make brilliant statements like “wow, we’re finally on vacation” or “it’s good to be in New Mexico.” Like I said, idiot-proof and good.

More upscale is Zinc. I love Zinc, and I make reservations there every time we visit New Mexico. My favorite item on the menu is the smoked trout and potato pancakes appetizer. The entrees are all superb, and the desserts are very special. This time, we had the creme brulee trio and the chocolate truffles. The smallish desserts relate to a particular change that Zinc has made that I believe shows true wisdom on the part of its management: they’ve right-sized the menu. Don’t you hate having to choose between wasting food and eating too much at a restaurant? Although the online menu doesn’t show it, you can get smaller portions of many items, including the wonderful smoked trout and potato pancakes. I had a half-portion of the quail entree, as well. So we saved money and avoided waste. What’s not to like? I wish more restaurants would do that.

The Artichoke Cafe was expensive but otherwise wonderful. Our server was especially noteworthy, in that she wasn’t just standing there reciting to us, but she actually talked to us about the food on more than a surface level. The food was excellent, too, and the desserts superb. The chef seemed to really understand how to match flavors and textures. Unfortunately, I don’t remember what I had, because it was one of the specials and this meal was early in the trip. But I remember almost swooning over it because it was such a well-cooked and well-presented meal.

Santa Fe

In Santa Fe, we always go to The Shed, usually with our friends Pat and Bonnie. The food is classic New Mexican cuisine, and The Shed is an outstanding and affordable place for it. This is the restaurant where I was introduced to New Mexican food, which is very different from what is served as Mexican food in the rest of America, and so I will always think fondly of the place. But aside from that? Funky yet authentic decor, friendly service, a fun environment, great food, and low prices. I normally have the chicken enchiladas, followed by “Shed cake” for dessert.

Il Piatto had great service as well as the option of a fixed price menu. Yes, you can get Italian food anywhere, but this restaurant is special. I had the duck papardelle, which was delightful. Il Piatto makes its own pasta, which is always appreciated. The tiramisu was addictive, and the restaurant was packed with locals — always a good sign. This would have been a reasonably priced meal but for the fact that we ordered wine by the glass instead of getting a bottle.

Taos

Sadly, Joseph’s Table went under, and El Meze had a fire, so we had to find new Taos restaurants. Happily, we did quite well, thanks to our B&B hosts. Our first night in town, we went downscale, to Pizza Out Back (a name describing the fact that you can’t find this place unless someone tells you how to get there). The pizzas here are huge! Order a slice and a salad, and you’ll still find yourself unable to finish. What a fun, funky place! I had the small house salad and a slice of Vinnie’s Special, both of which were yummy.

One day for lunch, we wandered into Graham’s Grill, which I’m hoping to visit again someday. Service was a bit slow, but the decor was bright without being a shock to the system, and the food was good enough that I’d like to consider it for dinner. I had the mac-and-cheese appetizer, which was delicious and filling enough for lunch without spoiling dinner.

The best meal in Taos, however, was at Lambert’s, which was absolutely glorious. Dave and I go to an awful lot of restaurants, so it isn’t easy to make an impression on us. But Lambert’s did. I began dinner with the wild mushroom risotto, which I would have happily made into an entire meal. My entree was the duck, which was beautifully prepared. And the chocolate mousse we shared for dessert proved that not all chocolate mousses are alike — some are better than others.

Madrid, Penasco, Datil, Pecos, and Cimmaron 

If you take the Turquoise Trail from Albuquerque to Santa Fe (or vice versa), you cannot avoid seeing the Mineshaft Tavern, in the small town of Madrid. We eat there at least once on every trip, and this time we visited twice, ordering sandwiches. It’s damned good bar food, even at lunch. Beer optional. Plus, it’s hard to beat the roadhouse atmosphere.

Another small town eatery not to be missed, but with an entirely different vibe, is Sugar Nymphs, in Penasco along the High Road between Santa Fe and Taos. We had lunch there. Service is slow, but there’s no need to rush — you’re going to get a delightful meal no matter what you order. When Dave and I were there, eating a salad and a burger respectively, I sat facing the bar and watched the pastry chef bring out a beautiful, cinnamon-scented hot apple and walnut crisp to cool. Of course we had it for dessert — how could we not?

Driving around New Mexico led us to find three very different restaurants, each of which will get a return visit if we’re ever back in the area. First was Mary Mac’s in Datil, NM, along Route 60. There’s a whole story about how we ended up here, and that story will be in another post, but suffice it to say that we were wandering. You may notice that I have no links for Mary Mac’s? That’s because there are none, except for 4 comments by 3 people on some forum. I can’t even get an address for the place, but if you’re near Datil on Route 60 in New Mexico, you will see it. And if you are hungry, you should go there. Mary Mac’s is a cafe/sandwich shop with good food and large portions. The knotty pine decor sold me on the place the minute we walked in, and the service is small-town chatty. I had a burger and Dave had a salad, and we were both pleased.

We were also wandering when we found ourselves at Frankie’s, in the small town of Pecos, near Santa Fe. Again, no website for the place, but it’s wonderful! Laid-back, Old West decor and atmosphere and good, hearty New Mexican food. I had a chicken enchilada that reminded me of why I love New Mexican food. This is a place to check out whenever you’re in the area. Or, as I described it to friends last night, it’s the kind of place we all fantasize about when we imagine a Western saloon with great food. Go there!

The last small town restaurant I’m recommending is at the St. James Hotel in Cimarron. The hotel is allegedly haunted, but if there is any kind of mischief going on in the kitchen, it only relates to the overly large portions. I had a delicious but enormous chicken enchilada that I couldn’t do justice to at all.

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