Albuquerque’s best breakfast and brunch spots: from waffles to hearty sandwiches, the top places to start your day:
Some cities are “breakfast towns,” where refinement in the egg and hash brown arts has reached mastery. Albuquerque is not (quite) that town but we do pretty well in the late breakfast and lunch scenes, with workday lunches providing sustenance and weekend brunches serving up relaxation. Albuquerque as a city is a vast grid of medium-density urbanity: we have no super-hip district where everything happens and all of the important restaurants open up. In short, we have no French Quarter or Mission District or Lower East Side. What this does mean is that you can find amazing little cafes and diners all over the map, many of them new in the past several years. Many of those fantastic and eclectic eats can be hard to spot when merely driving around town, so this will serve as your introduction to the early-hour delights all over the Duke City, from the Northeast Heights to Downtown to the Westside.
Tia B’s La Waffleria
First there was Tia Betty Blues in “Fringecrest” along San Mateo, a bastion of 1940’s nostalgia decor with a flavorful New Mexican menu and funky touches like blue corn waffles topped with carne adovada. Those waffles made an impression on diners, and in 2014 a sibling restaurant was spawned in Nob Hill to serve almost nothing but waffles in every combination imaginable. At Tia B’s La Waffleria, you can have an exquisite Azteca blue corn waffle laced with cinnamon and topped with chocolate sauce, caramel and a dusting of red chile. Not weird enough? Go savory with a bacon-studded waffle topped with fried eggs. The waffle-averse can still dine, of course, on the maple salmon hash’s jumble of sweet potatoes, veggies and smoked salmon, all drizzled with maple syrup. Tia B’s compact interior overflows with light, with vintage waffle irons perched on knickknack shelves. Having this new eatery in a well-established restaurant neighborhood is a treat, indeed.
New Yorken Cafe
In the Northeast Heights along Juan Tabo you’d be hard pressed to find a quick breakfast that doesn’t originate from one of the ubiquitous chains whose bread and butter is served out of a window. Enter New Jersey-native Patrick Archibald and his New Yorken Cafe. This little restaurant combines his love for both his adopted state of New Mexico and New York style cheesecake. Honed over years, Archibald’s recipe became the stuff of legend; he even ran a side-business called PattyCakes in the years before opening his own spot. The simple strip-mall storefront has a spartan dining room that serves to draw your eyes to the pastry case containing wheels of golden brown sweetness. To justify that reward, order up some East Coast favorites like a New York dog with or without chili, or a Reuben sandwich smeared in tangy mayo on marbled rye. The breakfast find on this menu is the German style potato pancakes—ask for extra-crispy and a side of sour cream. Then partake in luxury with a slice of plain cheesecake that will just about make you renounce any dessert eaten in your life before this one. Yes, really.
The address 2933 Monte Vista, near UNM, has been a place to keep on the map for excellent food at least three times in the last two decades, interestingly, all three breakfast and lunch joints—in themes from chocolate to chile. The latest, open since early 2014, is called The Shop, a simple title that gives nothing away about the delicious meals within. Owned by two friends with a penchant for simple gourmet food, The Shop’s menu boasts wide ranging dishes from raw Brussels sprouts salad to chilaquiles served with a coffee-rubbed ribeye steak. It would not be inaccurate to say that everything is pretty awesome; you can order with abandon and the meal will come out delicious. Adding to the ambiance is a view through to the bustling kitchen where hash is slung, waffles are poured and chicken is fried. It’s not all diner dishes, either—the duck confit sandwich loaded with caramelized onions is enough to distract from their Qbano, a perfect riff on the classic Cuban pressed sandwich. Sip some Iconik coffee before or after the meal and smile.
Where it’s not quite downtown, not quite UNM, you’ll find the blossoming neighborhood of East Downtown (EDo). Tucked into the bottom floor of one of those shiny new townhouse complexes, Hartford Square is everything a modern cafe should be. It starts with a tiny little “store” (really a shelf) displaying locally-made granolas and jams and things to take home, followed by the display case of meals ready to take and heat in the comfort of your own dining room. Never mind those for now, just focus on the weekly menu crafted with an eye to gourmet comfort. Every week the menu changes, every week it stays the same by committing to local, local and more local ingredients, from bread to cheese to tea to coffee to beer and wine. Sarah Hartford wants her cafe to serve whatever need you have: coffee before work, a snack, healthy lunch, take-out dinner, even eggs and dairy for your own larder if you’ve run out. That philosophy is sorely needed in our neighborhood joints, and definitely appreciated here.
Want coffee and a bite on the Westside? That’s easy—just hit up that place on nearly every corner with the green logo. However, if you want good coffee, roasted locally, made from fair-trade, organic beans? In that case you go to Cafe Bella, where local focus pours the foundation and expertise builds the house. Owner Michael Gonzales has a history of coffee-geekery and is a fast talker when it comes to anything he is passionate about. These days he is passionate about Cafe Bella, the place he is growing into a social gathering point for nearly the entire Westside. Ok, about that coffee: it’s quite wonderful, whether extracted into espresso or dripped into a cup. Follow that up with a fresh panini, or an espresso brownie, or a bagel sandwich stuffed with a steamed egg, cream cheese and Canadian bacon. You’ll be surrounded by local regulars, smiling into their cups while working or just conversing about the weather. Either way, it’s a perfect destination to get to know more of the local flavor of Albuquerque.
Café Lush is a nubbin of a restaurant, just a few tables inside, but makes use of the sidewalk on most days to expand seating and give patrons their daily dose of bright sun. The food is eclectic nosh: menu items named after friends (“The Irminator” chile-laced grilled pizza, “The Dewey” ham sandwich with peach mustard), fancified salads with beets and sweet potatoes and feta, and house-made ice cream for the post-salad healthful glow. Breakfasts pull in locals from the northern downtown area and parents post schoolchild drop-off. How could someone toting around a youngster turn down an order of bread pudding masquerading as French toast? Keep your cup of strong coffee black as the perfect counterpoint to that sweet breakfast.
Story by Andrea Feucht