Adventurous eating in Albuquerque
By Steve Larese
Albuquerque's New Mexico cuisine is as colorful, adventurous, diverse and savory as the city. From simple dishes that have been enjoyed for centuries, to Southwest fusion tastes that have created their own genre, New Mexico’s distinct culinary legacy is known throughout the world. Chile is the foundation for most of New Mexico’s classic dishes. Technically a fruit, this pepper has been cultivated into several varieties to vary heat and size. Green and red chile are made from the same peppers; greens are younger and reds are fully ripe. Green chile tends to be meatier; red chiles are dried, usually in colorful ristras, then crushed into a powder to make the sauce. Which one is hotter? That varies year-to-year, depending on how much water and sun the crops received, and other factors. The main difference is in texture; red tends to have a smokier flavor. A good chile dish shouldn’t set your mouth on fire; it’ll have a zip, but most importantly you should be able to savor its flavor. Can’t decide? Order your meal Christmas–a combination of red and green chile. Classic traditional chile, corn, meat and cheese dishes have been taken to new heights by Albuquerque's fine restaurants. New Mexico ingredients are a playground for our inspired chefs, many of whom have earned James Beard Awards and other honors. Like New Mexico itself, our food invites tastes and styles from all over the world, and recombines them into flavors found only here. When visiting Albuquerque, you owe it to yourself to experience a fine-dining meal, and don’t be afraid to ask questions about it’s origins and inspirations; our passionate chefs love to talk shop.
High Noon Restaurant and Saloon
Housed in a 250 old adobe on the north side of Old Town Albuquerque, the High Noon restaurant has been serving great food for 38 years. Upon entering this special place dating back to 1785, you'll find a cozy bar lounge with southwestern santos placed in niches and further back, two different dining rooms, one with large adobe booths perfect for a romantic date or a dinner with friends. Coined the "Original Old Town Steakhouse," High Noon definitely knows how to make great steaks and serve them in a most appealing way. For starters, try the kobe beef sliders or red chile beef bites. For an entree, choose from New Mexican or more traditional favorites, such as the blue corn enchiladas or the bourban roasted chicken. They've also added wild game to the menu. Green chile cheeseburgers tempt the more casual palate and enticing seafood dishes are available, but the star on the menu is definitely their steaks. The desserts are over the top and the bar stocks over 30 tequilas for those diehard New Mexicans who love their margaritas or straight shots. (505-765-1455)
La Crepe Michel
Bring your french accent and your appetite to this cozy hidden spot located back in one of the cute alley ways on the east side of the historic Old Town Plaza. Unlike its New Mexican food counterparts, you will be pleasantly surprised at the melt in your mouth quality of this incredible French fare. The waiters are quite professional and have impeccable pronunciation of each menu item. You'll wish you had taken French in college, but don't let that stop you. Salads, served with Le Crepe Michel's special vinaigrette dressing, quiches, crepes and delicious sandwiches such as the Croque Monsieur, are the standard fare on the menu. If the Filet de Boeuf (steak) happens to be the daily special, treat yourself and enjoy choosing from several different delectable sauces. If only I knew how to make their green beans the way they do. ((505) 242-1251)
Dine in Southwestern elegance on the 9th floor of the Sandia Resort and Casino at the Bien Shur Restaurant, with incredible views of the Sandia Mountains. Bien Shur offers a beautiful dining room and top notch service, open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner. Consider enjoying a drink and a Southwest Tequila Shrimp Cocktail on the rooftop patio to begin, with beautiful views of the swimming pool, golf course and mountains. White tablecloths and an enormous fireplace greet you in the inviting dining room. Entrees include a large variety of steaks and chops to choose from and a selection of sauces. Other enticing entrees include Mexican White Shrimp, Duck Tamales and Chimayo Chile and Pinon Crusted Salmon, to name a few mouth-watering items. After dinner enjoy dancing and live music in the rooftop lounge. ((505) 798-3961)
Indigo Crow is the epitome of "Corrales cool." Rustic, charming and Southwestern relaxed can describe this restaurant in an old adobe, serving scrumptious contemporary American cuisine with a taste of the Southwest added to some dishes. Choose to dine in the cozy inside with fireplaces in the cooler months or al fresco on the charming romantic patio, enjoying live music while you dine. In a tiny separate room from the restaurant, is its inviting little bar. Try the chipotle clams or beef skewers for starters. Dinner selections range from the filet with its fire roasted green chile and gorgonzola cream sauce, to the grilled salmon with red chile puree, served with vegetable risotto stuffed poblano, with crispy blue corn strips. Open for lunch, dinner and brunch. Wines and specialty drinks served. (5058987000)
Scalo Northern Italian Grill
Since 1986, Scalo, in the heart of Nob Hill, has been delivering great italian food, steaks, fish and pasta in this trendy, open grill eatery. Scalo is the recipient of Open Table's Diner's Choice Award and Spectator's Award of Excellence for wine selection. See and be seen by the "Who's Who" of Albuquerque in this upscale restaurant, serving lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. The split level floor plan makes for a cozy, unique environment, with floor to ceiling windows looking out at shoppers strolling by or diners out on the covered patio. Happy hour menu is available in the bar, with live music happening almost nightly. (505-255-8781)
Seasons Rotisserie & Grill
Seasons Rotisserie and Grill, situated just north of Old Town Albuquerque, is an elegant restaurant, but with contemporary casual flair. Its open kitchen serves as the backdrop for white tablecloth dining, with hardwood floors, large fresh flower arrangements and a wall of wine bottles adding to the ambience. Taste the wood-burning grill at its best in dishes like the Blue Cheese Crusted Local Beef Filet, Jumbo Sea Scallops and Oak Fired Atlantic Salmon. Seasonal dishes and desserts such as the Housemade Pumpkin and Four Cheese Ravioli and Pumpkin Bread Pudding make appearances. Open for lunch and dinner. (505-766-5100)
Prairie Star at Santa Ana Golf Club
At the Prairie Star restaurant on the Santa Ana Pueblo, you'll experience great food and spectacular scenery while dining in an old adobe mansion from the 1940's, complete with hand-carved wooden accents and cozy corner fireplaces. Enjoy the newly expanded patio and wine bar, where an expansive wine selection is available (more than 2,000 bottles). The menu is New American cuisine, with New Mexico and World-fusion influences. The The popular Scallop Margarita starter has green chile, red onions, avocado, cilantro, tequila, lemon and lime juice for $9. Entrees including Cedar Smoke Tenderloin, the Smoked Duck Mac n Cheese and Portobello Ravioli make for a diverse menu that encourages return visits. Dinner is served Tuesday through Sunday. The lawn adjacent to the Prairie Star is a popular spot for weddings, corporate events and other private gatherings. Located 15 minutes north of Albuquerque (Exit 242 from I-25 and travel west) at Santa Ana Pueblo near Bernalillo, it's worth the drive. (505-867-3327)
When entering the Artichoke Cafe, your first reaction might be, "I'm not in Albquerque anymore," as the vibe here feels like a swanky little New York restaurant, with its elegant decor and artwork. The energy is good here and the wait staff professional. Choose to sit in the main dining room, the wine room in the back or the sophisticated bar in the next room (bar menu or regular menu available). The food at the Artichoke is excellent. Of course, the steamed artichoke, with raspberry vinaigrette, is featured on the appetizer menu, along with other greats, like ahi tuna and crab cakes. Top drawer entrees include duck breast, rack of lamb, steaks, seafood and even a wild mushroom and boar ravioli. The Artichoke Cafe was voted Best Fine Dining, Most Romantic Restaurant and Best Lunch Spot for 2012 by Albuquerque's newsweekly, The Alibi. (505-243-0200)
The Antiquity Restaurant in Old Town, is this tucked away gem that locals in the know rave about. This almost hidden treasure is worth finding, as customers rave about leaving this restaurant with a very happy tummy. Also, many couples choose this locale for a romantic dinner, in the summer choosing a special table out on the patio, surrounded by twinkling lights. Only open for dinner, menu selections are high end - steaks and seafood mostly. Sauteed mushrooms or beef carpaccio are enticing appetizers, for starters. The spiced shrimp, sauteed with beer, spices, cream and New Mexico red chili is enticing. Henry IV is a filet mignon, which is resting on a bed of artichoke leaves, covered with bearnaise sauce and an artichoke heart - mouth watering. Chateaubriand can be carved tableside and served with bearnaise sauce. Bottles, half bottles and wine by the glass are available, including sparkling, french and italian wines. Different nightly specials occur and the chef can even prepare requests. Popular desserts are the polyczenta, creme brulee, three creme crepe and chocolate mousse, to name a few regulars. Other dessert specials are offered too. ((505) 247-3545.)
Farm and Table
Cherie Montoya Austin, who grew up in the North Valley of Albuquerque, the greenest and most fertile part of the city, started Farm and Table restaurant, an obvious culmination and continuation of her values and traditions. Chefs prepare seasonal menus according to what the current fresh crop of the day is - a concept embraced by the environmentally conscious society of today. Farm and Table gets their food from local farms and elsewhere in New Mexico - corn from the Santa Ana Pueblo, beef from Los Lunas and potatoes from Santa Fe, for example. Local beers and wine accompany the scrumptious fresh meals such as Cider Glazed Pork Chop and Pan Seared Duck Breast. Fresh from the farm soups, salads and small plates area available too. Open for dinner only, Wednesday through Saturday and brunch on Saturday and Sunday. ((505) 503.7124)
About Steve Larese
10Best.com Travel Expert Steve Larese tackles adventure worldwide, from being one of the first people to careen down the world's tallest waterslide to exploring haunted castles-turned posh resorts. Check out his latest book, Balloons Over Albuquerque, and his other projects here. When Larese isn't exploring for 10Best.com, he's writing for National Geographic Traveler, American Way, USA Today Travel, Forbes Travel and other national travel publications. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
Read more about Steve Larese here.