New Mexico's Hatch chile is generally known as the best chile in the Southwest - and probably the whole country. The fresh harvested chile is usually available around New Mexico from late August until mid October but the rest of the year, you can buy the chile frozen, dried or canned. There are many chile growers that have online stores from where you can pre-order fresh chile for deliverly each season. Nowadays, there are also dozens of local New Mexico restaurants that sell their canned (in jars) chile sauce so you can try different recipes.
When I go to New Mexico, I usually stop by Chile Traditions which is conveniently located near my mother-in-law's house. They have every kind of chile product you can imagine.
The Jilli Peppers dry salsa mix (you need to add diced tomato) is always a great gift when we are abroad and need something unique and I like to stock them for ourselves to make our own salsa. The Hatch red chile powder for homemade red chile sauce is also a must for enchiladas and tamales. And of course I had to get some green chile. This time, I found some small packages of green chile and I thought it would be great because I usually want to use a little bit a time and freeze the rest. It is a lot easier these days to enjoy New Mexico's unique tastes anywhere you are.
8204 Montgomery NE
Albuquerque, NM 87109
Because of the holidays, we had many family gatherings at home - a nice break from eating out (and a chance for me to cook at least once). After Christmas, there were still several places that I really wanted to go before I left but time was running out. For one of our last New Mexican fix, we opted for one of the state's original green chile cheese burger joints, Blake's. It is a local fast food chain (I believe it is still family-owned) only in New Mexico and they make the best green chile cheese burger. Many people suggest Bobcat Bite for the best green chile cheese burger but it is in Santa Fe and we could not make it there this time. Unlike Bobcat, Blake's are everywhere so you have no problems finding a quick fix.
The menu is very simple. For burgers, there are three sizes. LOTA (large), Itsa (medium), and Kiddy (small). They all come with certified Angus beef with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles and mustard. You can add cheese, New Mexico green chile, red chili with beans, jalapeno (whole or chopped), and bacon. We always add cheese and green chile to make a green chile cheese burger.
Their green chile has a great kick compared to other green chile but it is still not overpowering - just the right amount of taste to give the burger flavor. If you go to New Mexico, you've got to try Blake's green chile cheese burger. It will be the best $3.00 you ever spent.
(76 locations across New Mexico)
Garcia's Kitchen is a New Mexico family-favorite. They provide good food at a reasonable price where anybody can enjoy. Garcia's is a local family restaurant with a few locations in Albuquerque and it often finds a place on many "best of" lists for Albuquerque's New Mexican food.
One of New Mexico's staple dishes is posole. It is a hominy stew with meat (usually pork) and chile. People traditionally eat posole for Christmas night. So my husband and I were searching for the best posole in town and we found out that many people suggest Garcia's Kitchen.
My husband and I tried three things from both the a la carte and combo menu. A brisket taco plate (3 soft shell tacos with salsa, guacamole and pica de gallo), a bowl of posole, and a tamale with red chile sauce.
I was not too impressed with a brisket taco plate. The taco itself was ok but the rest of the sides were not my favorites. But the posole was good even though it was not the best I ever had and the tamale was excellent. Their red chile sauce was quite hot and tasty.
3601 Juan Tabo NE
Albuquerque, NM 87111
(6 other locations)
One of my requests during this trip to New Mexico was to visit the Gruet Winery. Most people don't think of wine when they think of New Mexico, but perhaps surprisingly, New Mexico's Gruet winery is one of the best sparkling wine makers in the county. Gilbet Gruet is the founder and he was born in Bethon, France. And his son and daughter relocated to New Mexico to start a winery with the French sparking wine technique. Their first wines were distributed in 1989 and since then Gruet received many awards.
We only had a very short time for tasting but we managed to try some of their sparking and still wines. Even through Gruet is famous for their sparkling wine, we tasted their Syrah and it was quite good. We bought a few bottles of Gruet Brut which is crisp and rich and Syrah for the Xmas dinner the next day.
The location is off the freeway and kind of bizarre place to have a winery. Certainly not the picturesque setting many people imagine. Just close your eyes and enjoy the taste.
8400 Pan American Freeway N.E.
Albuquerque, NM 87113
We always try to visit Santa Fe as much as we can during our visit to Albuquerque. This time we only found one chance for a short visit but we had a wonderful dinner at La Boca. It is a Spanish tapas restaurant in old town. We got there a little early for our reservation and the place was packed so we had to wait in a little bar across the street. As a hint to the excellent service at La Boca, when our table was ready, the host from La Boca came to the bar to get us. Nothing like old style Santa Fe hospitality.
The restaurant is very simple and laid back, with only about 20 basic tables, a small bar for eating, some beautiful artwork and, on the night we were there, some terrific live guitar music. I loved the casuea but tasteful decor and was captivated by the wonderful vegetable and fruit paintings by Braldt Bralds on the walls.
We had a total of eight tapas in three segments. First, we had grilled artichokes with Spanish goat cheese and mint; the tapas trio (hummus, red pepper-almond spread, goat cheese with spinach, raisin, capers & flatbread); and fresh Portuguese sardines with fennel blood orange salad from the special menu. Everything was fantastic. The artichokes were some of the best I have ever tasted, and the sardines were scrumtuous. Already we were smitten.
For the next course, we had a canelone with lump crab, scallops and manchego cream; morcilla with garbanzo beans; and grilled hanger steak with shrimp, spinach and manchego cream sauce. Again, a home run on every dish. The morcilla was totally yummy.
For our dessert, we shared a platter of three desserts. An helado de turron (whipped honey-almond nougat semifreddo), pot de créme (chocolate-espresso ganache-custard) and a tarta de naranja y granada (blood orange and pomegranate tart).
I don't know where to begin to tell you how much we loved this restaurant. When we go to a tapas restaurants, there are usually at least one or two dishes that I don't care for. It is hard to hit every dish right. But we were absolutely amazed by each and every dish at La Boca. Every one was a home run. To hit 8 out of 8 is astounding. Their service was fast and attentive and personal. The decor was warm and inviting. This was positively one of the best dining experiences we have had in a long time. In fact, we loved La Boca better than several Spanish places we have in Washington DC (many owned by a celebrity Spanish chef). We had a terrific time. My husband still remembers that meal more than any other from 2010 and we hope to go back there soon. I cannot compliment La Boca enough.
72 West Marcy Street
Santa Fe, NM 87501
Duran's Central Pharmacy's "lunch counter" restaurant has been a local favorite in Albuquerque for more than 50 years. My husband used to go there when he was gowning up in Albuquerque. Back then, there was only a counter and a few tables. While the place is still small, there are now a few more tables and an outdoor seating area to accommodate more people.
Several items on their menu are available only on certain days but they always offer their staples. My husband ordered a blue corn enchilada with red sauce which is his favorite at Duran's. The quality has not changed and it is as good as he remembers, he said. Some warm blue corn tortillas were dipped in red sauce and stuffed with cheese in between and on top of then finished with a ladle of red sauce that fills the whole plate. It comes with pinto beans.
I had a stuffed sopapilla with green chile sauce. This dish is unique and you can only find in New Mexico. First, sopapillas are not a common feature of "Mexican" food, but they are very much part of the blend of Native American ingredients and Mexican recipes you find in New Mexico. And then, of course, what makes the plates so uniquely New Mexican is the preponderence of yummy red or green chile sauce that literally smothers the food. Of course, only in New Mexico will you always be asked in any NM restaurant that uniquely NM question: "red or green". I don't know where else in the world is there a question of color from the wait staff. So, what makes New Mexican food so special is the unique quality of New Mexico chile, and the mixture of ingredients from New Mexican cultures - Native American and Mexican.
I had a sopapilla stuffed with beans but you can add meat as well. Just like an enchiladas, beans, cheese and a load of green chile are ladled on top of the warm sopapilla. The green chili was not spicy at all but had lots of smoky chili flavor. Even through I am not a big fan of a spicy food I wish it was slightly spicier than that.
Both of the dishes we tried here were definitely showcases for the sauce. The main dish was basic but the sauce was great.
Duran Central Pharmacy
1815 Central Ave. NW
Albuquerque, NM 87104
We finally returned to New Mexico - my husband's home state. It has been almost two and half years since our last visit and we both could hardly can't wait to try some of his favorite foods and some new places (for us) for one-of-a-kind New Mexican food.
After researching a few great blogs (thanks especially to nmgastronome), we started down on Fourth Street in the North Valley at Sophie's Place.
Sophie's is very small restaurant that only servers lunch with just a few tables inside for about 15 people. The menu includes some classic American lunch items and some New Mexican food. We were only interested in New Mexican food and I picked the special shrimp tacos and my husband chose a tortilla green chile burger. My shrimp tacos came on a really tasty corn tortilla with some avocados and pica de gallo. It had a good heat but not too hot, and the shrimp were cooked perfectly with really great seasoning. The side beans were excellent. Spanish rice and small green salad also came as sides.
The tortilla green chile burger was also an excellent choice. Needless to say, green chile is a big deal in New Mexico and the fresh green chile from here is nothing like anywhere else. The burger had loads of yummy green chili on a perfectly cooked bureger and wrapped with a warm flour tortilla - then smothered again with more green chili. It was very New Mexican.
Our Gourmet tour in New Mexico was off to a great start. I can't wait to discover more hidden gems.