Mexican, Southwestern, New Mexican - Whatever you call it, Albuquerque's got it!



There are literally hundreds of restaurants in the Albuquerque area serving Mexican, or more specifically for this region, New Mexican food.   If you've never had spicy food, then prep your taste buds now!  "Red or green?" is the standard question here.  Most restaurants do not offer you a choice of having hot or mild, but they do offer to put the red or green chile accompanying your meal on the side.  If you'd like to try both, just say "Christmas, please!"  You can also ask which is hotter, because it can vary from season to season.  Green is not always the hottest.

There are many tried and true Albuquerque favorite haunts for eating Mexican food and locals will probably be staunch defenders of their hangouts - who has the best salsa, sopaipillas or margueritas.  Read on for a sampling of this critic's Top Ten places to grab great Mexican food.



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Guests dining here at the Pueblo Harvest Cafe (located inside the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center), will be pleasantly surprised to not only find Mexican dishes, but also what the Cafe likes to call "Native Fusion" cuisine, inspired by New Mexico's pueblo ancestors. It would be hard to pass up the delicious sounding appetizers of Chile Cheese Fries, smothered in red or green chile and melted cheese or the Tower of Blue Corn Crusted Onion Rings. But there are so many interesting sandwiches to sample, build your own quesadillas and burgers, a whole line up of Mexican dishes and a few surprises. Stuffed Frybread, Southwest Macaroni and Cheese and the Sandia Southwestern Meatloaf, made with bison and baked in chipotle ketchup are unique finds. Best of all is the outdoor patio with live music and beautiful views of the Sandias. Indoors you'll find a Native feel with cozy Pendleton fabric booths.


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Winner of the 2011 Best New Mexican restaurant and best red chile by Alibi the Magazine, Los Cuates has been an Albuquerque institution since 1985. The original owner named the restaurant for his twin chidren (Cuates is Spanish for twins). The restaurant has since expanded to five locations now, including the newest one in the Albuquerque Sunport. Unique to Los Cuates is their salsa, different from all others in town, in that it is made with ancho chiles, which have a more sweeter rich taste to them. Also atypical to most Mexican restaurants, you'll find favorites on the menu such as the Pasta Chile Verde, Shrimp Veracruz and the hearty El Coyote, a juicy 10 oz. top sirloin steak accompanied with enchiladas and rice. Remember Los Cuates for your catering needs, whether it be corporate lunches, anniversaries, weddings or birthdays. They are accustomed to large parties.


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Who says Mexican food can't have a little frutti di mare involved in the action to give things a little twist? Marisco's Altamar Restaurant thinks so, and they do it well. Owner Hector Hernandez, originially from Durango, Mexico is responsible for the northern Mexican flavors found here, proudly divulging he has regulars that come in from Santa Fe, El Paso and even Colorado. Aztec designed cloth-covered tables with flowers, live music and Spanish speaking wait staff to greet you make the ambience here special. Located a fair distance from the main hub of Albuquerque (south of I-40 on Coors), everyone will tell you it's worth it to experience the food here. Where else in Albuquerque could you order a Seafood Mix Tostada, filled with crab, octopus, shrimp with pico de gallo? Besides Mexican platters, there are a variety of steaks offered. Have a Ricas Micheladas to wash it all down!


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Barelas


 

El Modelo restaurant, in operation since 1929 with only two different owners, has a long history of serving great Mexican food to Albuquerque residents. The original owner used to get up at 2 AM to hand make the flour tortillas that were used for breakfast. That care and attention has carried on. Besides the traditional menu items - taco, enchilada and tamale plates, there is one interesting thing on the menu that stands out - the flat green bean taco. Story has it that the original owner's son, Salvador Garcia created it out of his love for grean beans and has stayed on the menu ever since. The other consistency over the years, it seems - low prices! Dinners range from a mere $4.30 to $7.85. El Modelo has a take out service, offering large quantities of their specialties by the pint or dozen. New patio is now available.


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Zacatecas
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Boren


 

The newly opened Zacatecas in Nob Hill has really caught on. It's always full. People love the open air feel to this place, with its interior blending right in to its patio area on Central Ave., the old Route 66. The decor is hip and its vibrant blue exterior eye-catching. Locals are raving about the veggie tacos, carnitas tacos and the fonduta. Since it is touted as a taco and tequila place, tequila is a main attraction, with all the margueritas being quite popular, including the flight of margueritas for sampling a variety. Other fun drinks inlcude the Lava Lamp, worth experiencing.


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Easy to miss, Charlie's Front Door is one of those places that you have to learn about through a local. They have been frequenting Charlie's for years, located in Hoffmantown Shopping Center in the NE Heights. When a restaurant doesn't have a web site, it's probably because they don't need to. Word of mouth has sent many to Charlie's for good Mexican food. And the pour yourself margueritas from a shot glass embedded in ice, is a fun touch. Located just down the street from the Uptown area, this "dive" is family friendly, but also frequented by the business crowd during the lunch hour. A small one room dimly lit dining room, with a bar in the middle, it doesn't seat many, so beat the rush. Upon leaving, you'll see the footsteps painted on the sidewalk leading you around to a side door, Charlie's Back Door, mostly a bar.


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Taking over the north valley location of the former Garduno's, El Bruno's proves to be a worthy occupant. This is a great location amongst the tall cottonwoods and quiet nature of the neighborhood. With their original El Bruno's in Cuba, NM (started in 1975), high school sweethearts Bruno and Hazel Herrera now bring their success to NW Albuquerque, opening the 2nd El Bruno's in March 2011. They are quite proud of their tradition of hauling fresh green chile from Hatch, roasting and peeling it themselves, and using it in their famous recipes. Their daily specials, affectionately named after nearby New Mexico cities and villages, such as Corrales, Placitas and Los Lunas, offer up traditional New Mexican fare, such as enchiladas, relleno, burrito and even a Navajo taco. With all that fresh green chile on hand, their green chile stew has to be incredible. There are kids menu items available too.


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North Valley


 

Around 50 years ago, the Benevidez couple, Paul and Rita, started their dream of running a restaurant. Originally in a smaller space named El Mexicano, they moved to their present location in a 100 year old house and haven't looked back. The garden and waterfall in the back make this a truly peaceful and pleasant escape. Bring your appetite, as menu items include such favorites as stuffed sopaipillas, a la carte burritos and flour tacos, all served with red or green chile, of course. Ample salads served in a fried flour tortilla bowl will fill you, as will their choice of burgers, including their Very Famous Sopaipilla Burger, the beef patty accompanied by refried beans, cheese, lettuce and tomato, and housed in between two sopaipillas. Careful, for dessert you could be easily enticed by the fried ice cream, flan or natillas, a Spanish custard like dish.


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The newly opened El Patron (in the former Garduno's building on Montgomery NE) is a pleasant surprise. The decor is somewhat the same, with the Mexican hacienda feel to it, figurines and planters up above, with pseudo windows, flowers and balconies, although it seems brighter now. A lot of light floods the room, making it almost seem like you're outdoors. With over 11,000 square feet in this building, the lobby is very spacious upon entering, with the split level bar to the left and the variety of dining rooms to the right, including a patio with colorful umbrellas and a view of the Sandia Mountains. Most likely you will be escorted to a table right away. Offering all the traditional Mexican fare at reasonable prices, you can choose between the larger combination platters or the one item meals, such as the chile relleno or tacos. Desserts look fabulous and keep in mind that margueritas are only $3 during happy hour 4-10 pm!


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El Pinto is the largest restaurant in the state of New Mexico, but its rambling indoor rooms and sprawling lush patio will make you feel quite cozy. Talk about ambience. Everyone who lives in Albuquerque takes their guests here for the beauty of this well-loved restaurant since the 60's. Situated in the north valley, the entrance itself is gorgeous, tucked amongst the tall cottonwoods, with entry portal and long chile ristras hanging to greet guests. Their own salsa is now packaged and for sale in the entryway, and also available in several chain stores. Serving mostly New Mexican fare, enjoy a marguerita and one of the many traditional dishes. Live music is on the patio, as are large spaces for private events.


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Meet Jennifer Boren

A native of Oklahoma, by way of New Mexico and now Utah, Jennifer Boren makes her home in Salt Lake City.  A total lover of Park City, she spends many weekends there, especially in the...  More About Jennifer

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