Santa Fe/Albuquerque

We left OKC the next morning and stopped in Amarillo to check out the Big Texan.  We had driven by it many times, but never stopped in.  If you haven’t been through there, this is the place that has the famous 72 ounce steak, which is free, if you can eat it in an hour or less (along with all the other sides).  It’s not something I would aspire to, but Anna wanted to stop and see it.  The place is really nice inside and they have a gift shop.  I notice on their menu that they accept gold and silver bullion for payment.  As we were leaving, a couple pulled in on a yellow Goldwing, and it looked like it could have been Roger and Jane Holm (which would have been the biggest and most amazing coincidence in the world).  It wasn’t Roger and Jane, but they were from Minneapolis (which is still an amazing coincidence).  I chatted with them about touring on the Goldwing, and they said they love it.

We finished the day’s drive and pulled into Santa Fe in time for dinner.  I had been looking forward to all the green chiles.  We hadn’t eaten all day and we were starving.  For part one of our dinner, we drove over to the Tune-Up Cafe.  Unfortunately I had run out of time when I was planning the trip and didn’t get a chance to watch the DDD episodes for New Mexico.  We we’re going to have to wing it.

The Tune-Up Cafe is a great little cafe which just went through an expansion.  They have a nice dining room in the front, a gorgeous bar off the back, and plenty of seating on the patio out front.  We got a cozy little deuce in the bar and drew a friendly waitress named Marquee.  We hit the jackpot with her because she is a total foodie, knows everyone in town, and is originally from Chicago.  So we had tons of stuff to talk about.  We ordered the green chile cheeseburger and a bowl of green chile beef stew.  She got us lined out for the Santa Fe tour.

Green Chile Burger at Tune Up

Green Chile Cheeseburger
at Tune Up Cafe

The food was outstanding.  The stew was rich and the flavors were very well developed and balanced with the heat of the chiles.  They make this dish with flank steak and it was melt in your mouth tender.  I thought for sure it was an all day affair, but other than the homemade beef stock, the chef says it only takes about two hours.  I couldn’t wait to get home and make some.  The burger was great too and cooked perfectly.  It was scrumptious and really hit the spot.  The fries were crispy crunchy delicious and went along well with the garlic aioli.  Part one of our dinner plans was a smashing success.

Anna and Piper

Anna and Piper at Back Road Pizza

Part two of our plan involved getting a pizza to go at Back Road Pizza.  We went inside and were lucky that there wasn’t a long line.  They have a very enticing menu and I had it narrowed down to two of their signatures pies.  The New Mexican features green chiles, red onion and pepperoni.  Yum.  But they also have my combo favorite which is called “Norm” and features house made sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms and black olives.  Tough choice.  I wanted to try them both.  The woman who took our order suggested that we get both on one pizza as a half and half.  Perfect.  That’s what we ordered and the woman happened to be the owner herself, Piper.  We chatted her up a bit and she was just as friendly as she could be.  She’s from Boston (where her parents still live) and so we raved about Sam LaGrassa’s Chipotle Honey Mustard Pastrami sandwich.

Back Road Pizza has been established for about ten years and looks like a great hang-out spot.  They feature killer food, great beers on tap, video games, pool tables, cool art and an outdoor patio that is spacious and inviting.  For all of that, one wouldn’t expect that the food would have to be great, but it is.  Piper has got everything going on just right.

Back Road Pizza

Our half & half special pizza with the crazy
good corn meal crunch at Back Road Pizza

The pizza was amazing.  The crust is super thin and combined with the corn meal, the crust almost tasted like crackers.  It was the perfect complement to the green chiles and I totally dug it.  Back Road Pizza easily makes my top ten list.  I would not be surprised if it is the best pizza in Santa Fe (or all of New Mexico).  The staff showed us how they make that amazing crust.  And it turns out that they make almost everything there from scratch.  Awesome.  In addition to fabulous pizzas, they’re rocking out appetizers, salads and killer sandwiches on home made bread.  If I lived in Santa Fe, I’d be in there every week.  I hope to make it back someday, and if I do, I’m going to get one of the mechanic shirts that they sell with their name on the back.

Our first morning in Santa Fe started with a breakfast that we would not soon forget.  We rolled into the Tecolote Cafe, and managed to find a parking spot in the back.  Way in the back.  I thought it was going to be some hole in the wall place in the Plaza.  Boy was I wrong.  The Tecolote Cafe is huge and we had to wait for a table.  The short wait was worth it and we got a great table (and some sunshine) up near the front window. There were at least two large dining rooms and they are light, bright, spacious and feature original works of art.  The place was packed and the staff was busy, yet the atmosphere was relaxed.  Calming.

Pinon Pancakes

Atole Pinon Pancakes at Tecolote Cafe

I knew we were going to order the Atole Pinon pancakes that were featured on the show with organic blue corn meal and pine nuts.  But, we didn’t know what else we would like to have with it.  They also featured carne adovada (chunks of pork tenderloin cooked low and slow in a red chile sauce) on the show, but after the fiasco at Gloria’s in Los Angeles, I wasn’t so sure it was the right choice for me.  I asked our waitress,Tara, for a sample.  She promptly brought out a nice little taste for us and I fell in love with it at first bite.  The pork was moist and tender, with a full chile flavor and a finish that was so hot, it was too hot for Anna.  Perfect.  I wouldn’t have to share.

Combo with Carne Adovado

Combo with Carne Adovada
at Tecolote Cafe

I wanted to try as much of the food as I could, so we ordered the combo platter which features the carne adovada along with cheese enchiladas, a taco, a tamale, beans and other goodies.  No toast.  Breakfast at the Tecolote Cafe comes with your choice of tortilla or muffin basket.  I didn’t know if we would be able to eat the rest of the day, but all the food was scrumptious and we ate every bite.  The pancakes were humongous and addicting.  I loved the Pinon (which are super nutritious by the way) and the flavor of the blue corn meal just made for a great mouth feel and punch of flavor.  We ordered the combo platter “Christmas” which means half red chile sauce and half green chile sauce.  The star of the show was the carne adovada, but every bite was yummy.  I honestly don’t know how they could serve so much great food and turn a profit.  I’m sure they lost money on us; but they generated a lot of good will and two happy campers. Tara gave us great service, and the whole staff seemed to run like a well oiled machine.  Tecolote Cafe gets our highest recommendation, and it will definitely be our go-to spot for breakfast whenever we make it to Santa Fe.

Taco at Tecolote

The taco part of our big combo platter
at Tecolote Cafe

Before we left, I wanted to find out more about the carne adovada and asked for the owner or manager.  I got both.  Although he was busy in the back, Matt Adkins came out to the dining room and answered all my questions.  We had a good chat, and I found out that the Tecolote Cafe is getting ready to move to a new location; and they are going to expand their service to be open for dinner.  Awesome.  The place will be bigger and include a bar.  After more than 30 years of doing it right for the people of Santa Fe and building a loyal following, they won’t have any trouble filling out the dinner service.

We took in some shopping and lost track of time.  We intended to make it up to Bert’s Burger Bowl for a green chile cheeseburger, and we barely made it with just a few minutes to spare.  It was nearly closing time.  It was a harried and rushed drive across town to get there.  The closer we got, the worse the traffic got, and I was afraid we were going to miss out.  I tried to call ahead, but they don’t answer the phone within a half hour of closing time as a policy. The woman at the front counter took our order and I was happy to have just made it.

They have an open grill and I watched the burger getting made.  It came right up and was wrapped and served in a bag.  I asked for some mayonnaise and proceeded to unwrap the burger to take its picture.  Well, the cheese wasn’t melted and the bun was actually cold.  Not just the absence of being toasted or grilled, but refrigerator cold.  I was so incensed that I asked the woman at the counter to feel how cold it was.  She wouldn’t touch it, but the woman at the grill took it from me and proceeded to make it over, even though I had already cut it in half.  I told her that I didn’t want her to do anything with it.  I was just asking if that’s how they normally put out their burgers.

It was surreal.  The woman at the front counter had walked away, or I would have asked to have our cash returned.  The woman at the grill wouldn’t speak to me, and then she got rude; as if to say, “How dare you come in here and suggest that there is anything wrong with our food.”  I was just in shock over the whole thing.  They weren’t teen-agers.  They were both adults.  I think the woman at the counter was either the owner or the owner’s daughter.  After all the trouble, we did eat the burger (out front).  Although it was actually hot this time, it was nothing special.  To say the least, we didn’t enjoy it.  I don’t know how Bert’s made it onto the show, but it happens sometimes.

I don’t know how long it’s been since I’ve seen the show, and I don’t remember the place, but I’m going to watch it right now and then come back with comments.

Okay.  Anna watched the segment with me, and she looked up some on-line reviews as well.  Apparently we are not the only people who didn’t care for Bert’s Burger Bowl.  I think the woman at the front counter is the owner’s daughter.  She is very attractive and was featured in the segment.  The woman at the grill could have been the owner, but she was wearing a hat and I’m not sure.  Regardless, I don’t know what I could have done or said to deserve to be treated so rudely.

I’d be willing to grant that the owners of Bert’s are good, decent and hard working people who love to make good food just the same as anyone else on DDD.  They’ve been in business for a long time, and they must have a lot of regular customers.  I hate to say anything bad about them, but that is the experience we had there.  For eight to ten bucks, there are lots of places in town where you can go and sit down to a high-quality, good-sized green chile cheeseburger done right.  For three bucks or so, you can go to a fast-food type place like Bert’s Burger Bowl and get what you get.  Even without all the hoopla, I was expecting a much better burger.

Guy didn’t care for the bread either.  Even if the bun is hot, it’s still dry.  He’s not stupid.  As Guy said, all he wanted was the meat with the green chiles and cheese on top.  If you’re going to take something that good and mess with it by adding bread, lettuce, mustard and pickles; you’ve got to do it right.  The idea is to enhance the food and make it better.  A Philly cheese steak for example.  The grilled steak and melted cheese would be quite tasty to eat by itself, but it is transformed into something even better when it is put on the right bread and eaten out of hand.

After leaving Bert’s we drove over to Back Road Pizza.  I couldn’t wait to see Piper again and tell her how much we loved the pizza.  Sadly, Piper was not there but we found solace and entertainment in the form of a woman named Maggie.  She was just getting off and kicking back with a beer while she was waiting for a ride.  She took us to school on all the food they make from scratch.  The more she told us, the more impressed I got.  We also got to see a pizza dough rolled out in the corn meal (so I can try my hand at it at home).

As for the disappointing burger at Bert’s, we made up for it later that day.  We drove out past Harry’s Roadhouse and ordered a green chile cheeseburger at Bobcat Bite.  We had to wait for well over an hour, but it was a magnificent burger, made with meticulous attention to detail, and love.  We also ventured over to the Cowgirl, which is supposed to be thee Saturday night hot spot for everyone in Santa Fe who likes to go out and have a good time.  We shared a quesadilla and a Frito Pie.  We were going to stay and check out the band, but the band was from out of town and running way late.  Too bad.  It could’ve been fun.  We had to make our own fun (like walking laps around our motel).

We had a big day planned for our Sunday in Santa Fe, filled with a big walking tour of all the art galleries on Canyon Road.  Obviously, a big breakfast was in order and we found just the right place to have one.

Zia Diner is a very large and inviting place with lots of booths and voluminous ceilings.  The place was decorated to the nines for Halloween.  We didn’t get to meet the owner, Beth, but it was obvious that this place smacks of high quality, good taste and attention to detail.  The staff was very friendly and professional; and our server, Luis, took excellent care of us.  Fortunately for us, we beat the crowd and got lots of attention.

Cakes at Zia

Pancakes at Zia Diner

Zia has a big menu and it wasn’t easy to pick out breakfast.  We had such good luck the day before, we went for a repeat.  We ordered a large stack of pancakes and a combo breakfast featuring two chile rellenos (Christmas) topped with eggs to order, and served with hash browns and tortillas.  We ordered our eggs fried, over medium.  We settled in for the long wait and as I gazed around the dining room, I spotted a couple that we had seen the day before at Bobcat Bite.  They were already finished eating and just enjoying some coffee.  I walked over and asked if they are foodies.  It turns out that they are, and were visiting from Dallas.  I told them all about the Pecan Lodge, and some of our other favorites.  They were nice people and I’m sure we could have talked for hours, but I didn’t want to miss the presentation of the food.  They asked if we were heading home on the 40 and I said, “Yeah, the 40… 41, whatever it takes.”

Chile Rellenos at Zia

Chile Rellenos at Zia Diner
(One order on a split plate)

I got back just in time to see Luis heading our way with our food.  They had done a split plate on the rellenos, and it’s a good thing they did because I don’t know how they could have got that much food on one plate.  The rellenos were gigantic, and happily some of the best we’ve ever had.  I was so enthralled with the chile, the cheese, the crunch, and the sauces, I forgot about the egg on top.  The egg turned out to be a great complement to the relleno and the hash browns were excellent too.  I loved everything about that breakfast, and the best part was that I got to help Anna eat her half.  She loves chile rellenos, but these were so big, she couldn’t eat a whole one by herself.  Actually, they were the biggest I’ve ever seen anywhere.  I didn’t know chiles could grow that big.

I loved everything about Zia, and if I lived inSanta Fe, it would be one of my regular hang-outs.  I will make it a point next time to meet Beth, and in the meantime, Zia gets our highest recommendation.

We found a parking spot for the car and spent the rest of the day on Canyon Road looking at all kinds of art.  We met some interesting people while we were at it, and took quite a few pictures.

Grilled Cheese at Harry's

Grilled Cheese Sandwich with
Caramelized Onions

We managed to work up an appetite and headed back out to Harry’s Roadhouse.  The weather was lovely and we got a table on the patio out back.  We enjoyed the sunshine and the great service from our waitress, Kate.  We had their menu scoped out before we got there and we ordered a grilled cheese sandwich with caramelized onions and a Meatlover’s pizza with green chiles.  Similar to my Philly cheese steak quest that I relayed to Richie at Hullabaloo Diner, we relayed to Kate that Anna is on a quest to get the world’s best grilled cheese sandwich (besides mine).

Pizza at Harry's

Meatlover’s Pizza at Harry’s Roadhouse

The food came out and it was fabulous.  We savored every bite and wanted more.  The grilled cheese was cooked to perfection, but I had to agree with Anna that it still wasn’t quite as good as mine.  The pizza was a good effort.  The dough was good, the toppings were tasty and it was good and hot.  I only have one criticism.  They sliced the pizza into four big pieces instead of the more typical six or eight.  It made it a little bit more difficult to eat and share, but Anna was able to help herself to as much as she wanted.  It was all good.

Harry’s Roadhouse is a great destination.  It’s big, inviting, tastefully decorated, has a great menu and a great staff.  You put all that together and you get one great atmosphere.  Harry’s Roadhouse gets our highest recommendation (even though we didn’t get to meet Gene Hackman).

Our visit to Santa Fe was short and sweet, but we packed a lot into our two and half days and met some great people.  We had traveled through Santa Fe once before, but we didn’t know where to go for good food and good times.  Our thanks to Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives, and the Food Network, for turning us on to the all the great places.  In the past I never would have went out of my way to visit Santa Fe, and now I would look forward with great anticipation to going back again.  I’m totally in love with the green chiles and the authentic New Mexican food.

We made the short drive down to Albuquerque and settled into a nice room there for two nights.  Our last two nights.  We weren’t planning to be in Albuquerque long, but we planned to get a lot done quickly.

We started our first morning with breakfast at Sophia’s Place.  We didn’t know what to make of it as we were pulling up, but it turned out to be a great experience.  The place is small, the dining room intimate; but they do have outside seating.  You place your order at the counter, pay, and then they bring the food out to you when it is ready.  Good set up.  Andrew took our order, served us, and answered all our questions.  He’d been working there two years and the place has been open about 11 years.  They have a big menu of fresh New Mexican favorites with the emphasis on freshness and scratch cooking.  They specialize in fresh seafood.

Tortilla Burger

Tortilla Burger at Sophia’s Place

We ordered a tortilla burger, which is a beef patty topped with cheese, wrapped up and grilled inside a tortilla and then topped with chile sauce which we ordered Christmas.  The burger is accompanied with shoestring fried potatoes and a delicate tossed salad.  If it looks good in the picture, then you can understand that I didn’t want to share it with Anna.  The burger was fabulous and the flavor profile reminded me of homemade enchiladas (the way I learned to make them from my mom).  The potatoes tasted better than they look, and the salad was a perfect complement to the richness of the burger.  The meal was perfect, except for the fact that we only ordered one dish.  We won’t be repeating that mistake the next time we make it back to Sophia’s Place.

I thanked Andrew and the kitchen crew, and went to the market next door where they buy all their chiles.  I loaded up on those and I’ve been cooking up a storm with them since we’ve been home.  I’ve got a pot of Fab Hot Dog chili on the stove at this very moment and I hope it turns out good.  It’s my first attempt, and I had to guess on the quantities.

We rolled over to the Fano Bread Company which is where the hamburger buns are baked for Bobcat Bite.  The guy at the counter was real friendly and knew exactly which buns I was after.  But, they don’t come out of the oven until the afternoon.  I was going to have to go back (and we did).

Carne Adovada Sopaipilla

Carne Adovada Sopaipilla

Lunch time found us making a triumphant return to Cecilia’s Cafe (they were open this time).  The place was a lot bigger than I was expecting and we got a comfy booth.  Our server, Claudette, was friendly and took excellent care of us.  Turns out she is Cecilia’s daughter and we felt honored.  I asked for a sample of the carne adovada and she brought it right out for us.  I was blown away.  The meat was hot, moist, tender, with a richly developed chile flavor.  The heat and the flavors were perfectly balanced and was more to Anna’s liking.  It was, and remains, the best I’ve ever had.  I still had to figure out how to have it for lunch.  Based on Claudette’s recommendation, we decided to go with the sopaipilla, since we’d never tried it before.  We also ordered a chile relleno and a beef taco.  Of course everything on the menu looked great.

While we waited for our food, we got to meet Cecilia herself and she joined us at our booth for a few minutes.  Great lady, super friendly and obviously very passionate about her work.  These were her recipes and they are based on a long and distinguished career in food service.  I told her the story of how we set out on our seven week trip and arrived at her place only to find it closed.  She forced a smile for me, and happily announced that they have opened a second location and it is open for dinner.  Yippee.  That’s great news for anyone in Albuquerque who loves great food and needs to get dinner.  Cecilia also shared the experience she had with the DDD shoot, and that was fun to listen to.  Cecilia is a kick in the pants.

Cecilia's

Chile Relleno and Taco at Cecilia’s Cafe

We ate our lunch and all I can say is that the pictures don’t begin to do the food justice.  The chile relleno was scrumptious and the taco was nice and crispy crunchy.  The sopaipilla stuffed with carne adovada was the star of the meal and I raved about it to Cecilia afterwards.  I told her that I was going to try to start making it at home (800 miles away) and she said to call her anytime if I wanted her help.  How great is that?  Cecilia’s cafe gets our highest recommendation and makes my Top Ten list for great Mexican restaurants.  When the food is that good, it makes me want to try everything on the menu.  I think it will be next to impossible for me to pass by on the 40 without stopping in for some great food and a friendly smile at Cecilia’s Cafe.

After leaving Cecilia’s and stretching our legs a little, we stopped back at the Standard Diner (where we had visited the year before).  We wanted to see the place again (and thank the manager again).  He wasn’t there, but we got to meet the owner, Luanne, who was right there at the door working as a hostess.  Luanne was as charming as she was friendly, and wanted to hear all about the olive oil cake we had there.  I was actually able to pull up the picture on my phone and show it to her.  We had hoped to meet the pastry chef as well, but he wasn’t there either.

Chocolate Pie

Chocolate Standard Pie

The dessert case, which is strategically placed at the main entrance, was chock full of irresistible delights from puddings and pies to some kind of pastry/mousse featuring peaches and cream.  It was an impressive selection and we decided that Anna couldn’t live without the Standard Chocolate Pie, a unique interpretation in a dish.  It starts with a chocolate cookie crust on the bottom, three layers of chocolate cream (dark chocolate, milk chocolate and white chocolate) and then topped with whipped cream.  Anna got her chocolate fix and I had one bite to taste it.  I could see what Anna was smiling about.  The Standard Diner was just as nice as we remembered it, and I would welcome the chance to go back again for a full meal.  It gets high marks across the board.

We whiled away the afternoon and bought a few souvenirs to remember the trip, before heading to our last stop for the day at the Monte Carlo Steakhouse (behind the liquor store).  We found our way in and got a booth in the back.  It was still early and so they weren’t too busy yet.  The place is definitely old school and part sports bar.  Whatever it may have lacked in cleanliness, it made up for with darkness.  The place could have been spotlessly clean for all we know, but it was cluttered and looked neglected.

Chicken Sandwich

Grilled Chicken Sandwich
at Monte Carlo Steakhouse

We got a great server, Omar, and he took excellent care of us.  I wasn’t having any part of trying a steak, but I was willing to gamble on a Philly cheese steak sandwich.  Anna went for the grilled chicken sandwich.  The kitchen is open off the far end of the dining room and it was music to my ears to hear the steak sizzle on the griddle. The food came out soon enough and we got the pictures taken.

 

Philly at Monte Carlo

Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich
at Monte Carlo Steakhouse

They did a nice job on the Philly.  As you can see, the bread was grilled so it was nice and hot.  The meat had a good flavor, but it wasn’t all that tender.  I don’t really know what is the best cheese to put on a Philly, but we can cross American yellow off the list.  This cheese wasn’t melted into the steak, but rather laid on top like an afterthought, and possibly stuck under a broiler.  For future reference (and I will write a full feature on this some day) the cheese is supposed to be placed on the meat while it is on the griddle and melted into the meat.  Then you place the open roll over the top and scoop/flip the whole thing over (which places the cheese on the bottom next to the bread).  The best cheese melt I’ve seen so far is at Rick’s Press Room near Boise.  Look at that picture and you’ll see what melted cheese steak is supposed to look like.

Despite the fact that it wasn’t perfect, it was still a good sandwich and I enjoyed eating it.  It was respectable.  The chicken sandwich was good and it was a refreshing change from all the many burgers we’d been having.  It was light and fresh; and made for a good ending to our day.

Combo at Salsa Brava

Combo at Salsa Brava

We rolled out of Albuquerque at 7:30 the next morning and stopped for lunch at Salsa Brava in Flagstaff, Arizona.  This time we were smart and sat right across from the salsa bar.  The food was good and the service was excellent.  We ordered a couple of the lunch combo specials and that would have to last us the rest of the way home.  The salsa bar was a treasure trove of fresh and spicy flavors, and we must have made a dozen trips.  Salsa Brava is our definite go to in Flagstaff.

We arrived home at 7:30 and so it was 800 miles and 13 hours on the road (with the time change).  A long day.  It’s always fun to get home, but it’s not much fun driving home.  Our next door neighbor always has dinner ready for us so we don’t have to cook.  Life is good.

It was a great trip for us, and the more time we spend visiting DDD spots the better we get at it.  It was great to see all our old friends, and make new friends.  My world will never be the same now that I know what good Texas barbecue is supposed to taste like.  It’s never been much of a big deal in California, but maybe that’s because of the abundant seafood.  Whenever my dad fired up the grill it was for steaks, ribs, or burgers/dogs.  I don’t know that I’d ever heard of low and slow until I started watching the Food Network, and I don’t think I’d ever tasted low and slow done right until we rolled into the Lone Star state.

Next DDD Destination: San Francisco   (DDD count: 261)

One thought on “Santa Fe/Albuquerque

  1. Ken,
    Grats on getting your blog up and running. It is looking great! I do remember meeting with you and wanted to take the time here to thank you for your glowing review of our atmosphere and and products.
    I’m so glad we had the opportunity to renew your faith in Carne Adovada as a scrumptious dish! I’m also pleased that you and Anna enjoyed the Atole-Pinon Hotcake, which, has been my personal favorite since first trying Tecolote back when I met Katie, my now lovely spouse.
    Thank you also for mentioning the expansion. Things are still moving forward with plenty of details still to be buttoned up. We are remaining very excited about the project.

    You and Anna take care and keep on having fun! Hopefully, the next time you visit Santa Fe, we’ll have the opportunity to meet and chat more about our respective adventures.
    Take care, be well, and thank you so much for your fine review,

    Matt Adkins

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