1. The Frontier
The Lobo basketball game ends and hunger strikes; for locals, it’s straight to Frontier Restaurant to indulge in late-night burritos smothered in red ‘n green chile and accompanied by glazed sweet rolls. Earth-tone paintings and signed UNM sports paraphernalia cover the walls of the four dining rooms, reflecting four decades of New Mexican history. A wave hello to four or five familiar faces in line, then the green light illuminates over the open register and it’s game on with the massive menu.
Despite having multiple jars of their Greek dressing in your fridge at home, the urge to stop at Dion’s for fresh green chile and pepperoni pizza dipped in ranch is too great. The platform overlooking the cooks spinning dough and building the massive pies is crammed with kids, and the pervasive scent of pizza grease recalls middle-school soccer banquet bliss.
The debate begins before leaving the house — the Scarpas on Montgomery or Academy? Either way, the best dessert in town beckons: the Torta di Mele. But first, the brick oven thin-crust pizzas and red chile cream penne eaten almost as quickly as it is brought to the table. Then what you have been waiting for: the caramel-covered, warm puff pastry apple tart with a whopping scoop of espresso chip ice-cream lands on the table. The spoon war begins.
4. La Cumbre Brewing Co.
The tune of a local band sounds from the Taproom at La Cumbre Brewing Co. There’s a Latin food truck called Calle Ocho on the curb and the kegs are flowing in the cozy bar area. The Pyramid Rock Amber and the Mapais Stout are the big hits the pourers are generous with the refills and samples.
5. Duran’s Station
Past the up-and-coming Uptown district is a repurposed stucco firehouse, the home of Duran’s Station. The scent of fresh-made, one-inch-thick, size-of-your-face, unbelievably flavorful tortillas fills the air. The fresh-chopped salsa, mashed potatoes smothered in red chile, and bowls of chile with beans is textbook New Mexican swagger.
6. The Flying Star Café
The orders ahead in line are for a Southwest Bennie, Turkey Jack, Huevos, slice of Raspberry Blackout Cake, and another slice of Raspberry Blackout — all classic and well-informed choices. The all-day breakfast and lunch menu competes with your craving for a Flying Star dessert, making the decision of what to order much more difficult. A soup of the day and a Turkey Jack arrive at the table but something is missing, the ‘Red Stuff’ — the only drink that can supplement a meal at Flying Star, aside from the selection of local brew.
7. Nob Hill Bar and Grill
This upscale joint is the center of attention on Historic Route 66 in Nob Hill. The vintage brick walls keep everything inside Nob Hill Bar and Grill cool while the mesmerizing 500-gallon fish tank suspended above the dining area grabs everyone’s attention. The classic burgers are a go-to choice but the munchies steal most your appetite — too many Nob Hill Jalapeno Poppers with the oozing pineapple, pecans, and cream cheese filling.
8. El Camino
Brunch with the family at one of the 10-top tables in the back dining room of El Camino includes multiple orders of Huevos Rancheros served ‘Christmas’ and double sides of pancakes. It’s the purest of Los Ranchos de Albuquerque experiences – moments away from Dan’s Boots and Saddles. Thanks to the staff you know by name, the classic candies, and the iconic 1950s vending machine, there is something undeniably comforting about this New Mexican classic.
9. Farm and Table
The north valley steals the hearts of many ‘Burquenos’ with the freshest dishes in town, and Farm and Table leads the charge. Generous portions of heirloom carrots, roasted poblano peppers, pan-seared duck breast, and farm-fresh eggs are staples at this trendier restaurant. Just out the back door, through the farmlands where the produce is sourced, the scent of fresh lavender rolls through the valley.
The lunch crowd is buzzing at Scalo, tables filled with small-plates of crabmeat, assorted cheeses and charcuterie, thick bacon, and hot wings. The beers, wines, and of course, the Mary’s are flowing all day long. The decision: spicy, tangy or mild on the weekend Bloody Mary special?
11. Il Vicino
After sports practice, the family is in need of a quick and quality weeknight meal; the thick-crust Da Vinci pizza, stuffed Calzone, and Insalata Della Casa from Il Vicino hit the spot. Outside patio seating fits the mood of a laid back Albuquerque day. The family crowds around the steel curved booth just as the swirling desert winds calm at sunset.
12. Viet Taste
You’re craving Asian cuisine. Enter Viet Taste, a small restaurant known for its forest green walls, life-size paintings, and bamboo sprouts in the corners, The spread for the evening includes spring rolls, papaya salad, Banh mi and rice noodle shrimp soup before you even order. The plates are not too heavy so there’s space for Vermicelli noodle bowls and fried rice served in their piping hot cauldrons.
13. The Grove Café and Market
You were already a regular at The Grove Café and Market on Central before it won Best Café in New Mexico. Saturday brunch (and Sunday brunch for those who double dip in the course of a weekend) is packed with hungry customers and dogs sneaking a bit of table food from their owners on the outdoor patio. You catch a glimpse of Executive Chef Jason Greene as you order the regular, the holy grail: Croque Madame with avocado, a side pancake (the best crepe ever made topped with crème fraiche), a strawberry macaroon, a double chocolate cookie with sea salt, and fresh squeezed OJ. Doubling down with a full order of pancakes is highly encouraged.
14. Saggios Restaurant
From outside, the noise from the sports bar/pizza and pasta mecca, Saggios Restaurant, emanates with shouts for goals scores and baskets dunked. Once inside, the screens blur together, as they air basketball, tennis, soccer, baseball, football, and hockey all at the same time. The table spread is a sports bar poster-child — a monster 25-inch pie, covered in jalapenos, pepperoni, and green chile and pitchers of beer and soda.
15. Zinc Wine Bar and Bistro
The atmosphere at Zinc is pristine. The formal but relaxed vibe permeates from the wine bar with balloon shaped light fixtures to the dining area with stained glass, warm desert colors, and fresh flowers at every table. The sharply dressed waiter takes orders for the cellar happy hour. The weekly specials are the first and only stop on the menu and the beef tenderloin tacos arrive within minutes.
16. Trombino’s Bistro Italiano
A birthday, a surprise party, or just any old trip to the wine bar brings you to the Italian institution, Trombino’s Bistro Italiano. A father’s day dinner is on the left with a flight of bruschetta and caprese salads. A family reunion is visible through the shutters. The true Italianos are seated at the corner tables under mock-frescos enjoying the breaded rainbow trout with a side of gnocchi or the homemade Italian sausage over spaghetti.
17. Down ‘n Dirty Seafood Boil
Down ‘n Dirty Seafood Boil is perfectly out of place across from Sadie’s. The red and white-checkered tables are covered in clear plastic wrap, the same plastic of the ponchos worn around the table. Giant plastic bags land on the table with no plates or utensils in sight. The Dungeness crab, Snow Crab legs, and shrimp mixed with rice and corn is smothered in Down ‘n Dirty hot sauce. ‘Digging in’ turns into ‘scoop and stuff your face.’
18. Apothecary Lounge — Hotel Parq
The downtown skyline is painted pink at sunset from the rooftop of the chic Hotel Parq. The Apothecary Lounge is temperate with brightly colored cocktails served around the table. The space heaters keep you warm and the rhythm of the courtyard fountains soothe the stress from the week past.
19. Sadie’s Restaurant
Purchasing jumbo containers of Sadie’s salsa before being seated is routine. The take-home items live under the table while gigantic portions of enchiladas, stuffed sopapillas, and carne adovada are devoured. The heat is real, more intense than any other Albuquerque Mex stop. Water doesn’t squash the spiciness but makes it worse. With sweat dripping down your forehead you go for the milk and the spice subsides only to start up again.
20. The Range Café
The quirky New Mexican diner sports zany art across the walls that reminds you of Jackalope pottery. The vintage yellow and bright blue chairs bring you back to old-school Albuquerque. And the New Mexican desert landscape, painted neon around the high-ceiling interior, brings you back to childhood with the help with the giant horse stuffed animals hanging out on a high shelf. Your Huevos Rancheros is smothered in red chile and all is good in the world.