Local Flavor’s Top Ten Dishes of 2015 — Albuquerque

The Shop Breakfast and Lunch

Chilaquiles

What is your favorite restaurant’s most important dish? One hint: it ain’t the chef’s visionary entrée—seasonal produce and locally sourced whatever notwithstanding. The true unsung hero is some workhorse of a dish, using at least one ingredient always in excess in the kitchen, cooked expertly. Take scraps and make magic: that’s the formula. This is how we have cake pops, fried rice and, most importantly to Southwesterners, chilaquiles. Take yesterday’s tortillas, fry until crispy, douse with chile and serve with anything from eggs to cheese. You’ll find a million versions in Texas, but here in Albuquerque, it gets no better than The Shop Breakfast and Lunch in Nob Hill. For $15, you’ll get your basic chilaquiles with red chile, eggs, black beans and queso fresco, PLUS a pile of sliced and spiced local sirloin steak. It’s the breakfast of your dreams, and it’s served up by talented Chef Israel Rivera and his business partner and childhood friend Grant Sibley.

The Shop is located at 2933 Monte Vista Boulevard, 505.433.2795, theshopbreakfastandlunch.com.

M’Tucci’s Italian Market & Deli

Charcuterie Plate

There are a lot of things to love about M’Tucci’s Market, like fresh baked bread or a roasted beet salad, but what you really came here for, whether you know it or not, is something else entirely. Shift your appetite from beets to meats and order the charcuterie plate. Trust in cured-meat master Cory Gray’s skillful palate by letting the kitchen choose which delicacies to include. Tell them you love flavor, you love fat, and all will be well. You might end up with a few succulent slivers of cured pork belly, prosciutto or something done in-house like pork jowl (!!). As the list of their creations grows, this plate will keep getting more interesting, but it’s already pretty darn good. What do I love almost as much as tearing through that plate of potent flavors? The fact that you get to take a gustatory romp without getting stuffed. You may even have room for the most interesting cannoli you’ve ever experienced. Go ahead, order it. Nothing isn’t amazing here.

M’Tucci’s is located at 6001 Winter Haven Road NW, 505.503.7327, mtuccis.com.

Vinaigrette

Cuban Torta

Salad, salad, salad. It’s all about the salad at Vinaigrette, right? No, wait, it’s actually about the desserts, too. Or . . . perhaps . . . there is something else going on. Something essential that indicates we are all glossing over the larger point of this place, founded on the idea of growing one’s own. Not just growing veggies, but growing your own passion, job, company, life. Wow, that’s a little bit deep for what is just a love song to a sammich tucked deep within a salad-heavy menu. It’s the Cuban Torta. Not quite traditional, this mash-up of roasted pork and ham (with green chile, of course) is breaking convention with Swiss cheese and red onions and a final slathering of avocado and mayo. But traditional isn’t the feel Erin Wade wanted from her salad restaurant; this breaded envelope of goodness is proof of her unconventional success.

Vinaigrette is located at 1828 Central Avenue SW, 505.842.5507.

The Grove Café & Market

Croque Madame

Lauren and Jason Greene have got this Albuquerque “thing” down. They moved to the Duke City back in 2006 after, in short, meeting-cooking-eating-collaborating themselves into a life together. First up was a restaurant of their own. East Downtown was growing; it was the perfect time to ride that groundswell along with places like Farina, with Holy Cow and Gravy to come much later. The Grove’s line-tolerant crowds came for the excellent café foods and fancy coffee along with the inevitable social chatter of this town. Many of them have discovered the Croque Madame, elegantly egging on diners from the chalkboard menu with its warmth and gooey ingredients. Black Forest ham, Gruyere and mustard on toasty bread is the base for a jiggling over-easy egg. Pick up that knife and fork; this open-faced sandwich is a formal affair.

The Grove is located at 600 Central Avenue SE, 505.248.9800.

Merienda at Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm

White Pasta

Simple and fresh is the name of this farm’s game: many items on the menu are grown onsite or procured within the state’s bounds. The menu changes often; your favorite from earlier in the year may have shifted into something equally amazing and comfortingly similar. One example is the appetizer that will surely feature balsamic vinegar: order it and regret nothing. This fall’s outstanding dish, however, involves a bit of white: I have never known this kitchen to do anything less than amazing with cauliflower. Yep, cauliflower. Find it in the White Pasta, a pappardelle dish with cauliflower, parsnip and celery root for starters. That hearty foundation is punched in the flavor face with feta, preserved lemon, chile flakes, cream, lentils and pecorino. Meat? Was that required?

Las Poblanos is located at 4803 Rio Grande Boulevard NW, 505.344.9297.

Jennifer James 101

Grilled Pork Collar

It never gets old to take a first-timer to Jennifer James 101, to see them light up like a luminaria when they see deviled eggs on the menu and then to see them flush with sheepish glee after they have shoved said eggs directly into an eager mouth. Or to have a dubious diner order the always-on-the-menu burger for a revelatory experience. But the regulars know what to order: anything you haven’t had before. Why? It might be around for days or months or years and no one wants to take the chance of missing a JJ101 dish. The Grilled Pork Collar is your current go-to. Root veggies flank the succulent meat, anything from turnips to radishes (or both), bringing a starchy stability to the meat. Garnishes as always are simple but effective: Garlic and honey balance pungent with sweet and might even prevent colds. Who knows, but it’s worth a shot.

Jennifer James 101 is located at 4615 Menaul Boulevard NE, 505.884.3860.

Street Food Blvd

Takone Twist

Albuquerque was just starting to realize they were in love with food trucks when one of the favorites, a certain taco joint, just up and left for the left coast. Fortunately for us they “forgot” one key person: Chef Raul Maestas. His next gig turned into another truck called Street Food Blvd, winning competitions and the hearts of all those taco fans. They’re learning that New Mexican can coexist with Hawaiian on one menu, pleasing fans of chile and spam alike. But their crowning achievement is to create a delicious/curious mash-up of fry-bread/gyro/chimichanga/enchilada all in portable form. Stay with me now. Roll up a flour tortilla like a cone, fry it until stiff, insert enchilada love and boom: the Takone Twist. Your filling choices are red-chile carne adovada or green-chile chicken, but I lean hungrily toward the red, as I am wont to do.

To follow the varied locations of Street Food Blvd go to streetfoodblvd.com.

Ajiaco Colombian Bistro

Patacon con Ropa Vieja

Albuquerque shows much love to New Mexican, Vietnamese and “American,” but there’s much to find comforting about South American fare. Meat and potatoes are the norm, with delicate seasonings and unusual starches. Thank the lucky stars for Ajiaco and their upscale Colombian homestyle. My favorite is a most rustic of dishes, essentially stewed beef with beans and starch. The Patacon con Ropa Vieja is what to order, and what arrives will make your tongue purr. Fried plantains (the “unsweet” banana cousin) are the base for the shredded beef plate with tomatoes and spices. Each bite has crunch, chew and warm richness. Now let’s raise a toast to soupy beans, served in their full stewing liquid. These are amazing and served in their own dish, all the better to save that glorious broth.

Ajiaco is located at 3216 Silver Avenue SE, 505.266.2305, ajiacobistro.com.

Piatanzi

Fried Calamari

Never mind the recent slight change of name—this Italian restaurant is exactly the same as it’s been since Pete Lukes shuttered Terra Bistro to open this bright and energetic haven of Mediterranean cuisine. Today, make no bones about it, you will be ordering an appetizer, and it’s the Fried Calamari. A dish often relegated to the quick-serve type of menus with factory-applied breading and mediocre fish, here under Lukes’ control, it beams with bright flavor. The rice-flour dredging carries a hint of lemon zest and fries up crisp without weighing down the thin rings of squid. Are they chewy? A little, of course¬—that’s the nature of this beast. But are they tough? Heck, no. The drizzle of lemony sauce as finishing garnish brings everything together, always threatening to ruin whatever appetite I had for the rest of the meal. Who says one can’t have a meal out of an appetizer, anyway?

Piatanzi is located at 1403 Girard Boulevard NE, 505.792.1700, piatanzi.com.

Safari Grill

Curry Corn

It’s a side dish, barely even noticeable on the menu strewn with weirdly juxtaposed items like fried okra and Indian style fish tacos. But there, on the bottom of one page, is the best thing you’ll have all day: curry corn. What the heck are you ordering? Is it a cob with seasonings? Is it some gourmet thing all locally sourced and interestingly flavored? Nope and nope. Rather, you’ll receive the plainest of sights, served up in a styrofoam bowl: creamed corn looking straight outta that 1989 dinner at Grandma’s. Invite your grandma or her fond memories over to your table to taste what the Safari Grill has created. There’s a little zing and a whole lotta sweet. One bite in and you know you’ll have to order more to take home or inhale before you leave the premises. Eat it with their amazing goat stew, if you’re a glutton for joy.

Safari Grill is located at 3600 NM-528, 505.897.0505, thesafarigrill.com.

Story by Andrea Feucht


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