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Eat Like a Local: Albuquerque, New Mexico

August 14, 2014

For Yahoo Food’s travel summer series, Eat Like a Local, we’re taking you on a cross-country food crawl, city by city. Here’s where to chow down in America’s lesser-known destinations without sticking out like a sore thumb.

Albuquerque, New Mexico may be slightly overshadowed by its touristy neighbor Santa Fe, but that dusty mountain-and-desert terrain is home to culinary gems that will have you rethinking your Southwestern road trip route. The city’s dining scene, once strictly the provenance of north-of-the-border Mexican cafes and greasy spoons, is beginning to embrace farm-to-table dining and artisanal eats in a big way. 

And where are they? Local food writer Andrea Feucht, a frequent contributor to the Albuquerque Journal, New Mexico Magazine, and The Guardian, and the author of “The Food Lovers’ Guide to Santa Fe, Albuquerque & Taos,” is here to tell you.

Best Hole in the Wall: Mary & Tito’s

"Everyone that knows New Mexican food likes this place a lot," Feucht said of the retro diner-styled cafe, which opened in 1963. "It’s not gourmet food by any means," but its red chili (a simple concoction of pureed red chili peppers) is "the best thing that they do," she said. Mary & Tito’s is particularly known for its carne adovada: morsels of pork marinated in the red chili and baked for a full five hours. (2711 4th St. NW, Albuquerque, NM; 505-344-6266)

Photo credit: Monte Carlo Steakhouse and Liquor Store/Facebook

Best Dive: Monte Carlo Steakhouse and Liquor Store

This may be the first combination steakhouse-and-liquor-store to pop up on our radar. “It’s divey because the atmosphere is straight out of the ’70s and ’80s, with not a lot of upgrades,” Feucht said, describing a dark, wood-paneled interior and walls lined with chintzy knickknacks. Although at the steakhouse waiters serve up “really good steaks that they age themselves,” it’s not exactly for those seeking a healthful experience. “It’s not a place where you’re going to deliberately order the vegetables,” she said. Noted. (3916 Central Ave. SW, Albuquerque, New Mexico; 505-831-2444)

Best Dark and Sexy Date Spot: The Cellar Bar at Zinc Wine Bar & Bistro

As its name suggests, the Cellar Bar is both “very dark” and a “very good blind date place,” says Feucht (who speaks from personal experience)! Its moody atmosphere and red-hued, wood-paneled walls help set the romantic tone—and puts people in the mood to drink. ”What they sell a lot of is their French 75,” she continued, referring to the classic New Orleanian libation of Cognac, lemon juice, Champagne, and simple syrup. (Nob Hill District, 3009 Central Ave. NE, Albuquerque, NM; 505-254-9462)

Photo credit: thegrovecafe/Instagram

Best Lunch: The Grove Cafe & Market

"Farm-oriented" fare makes the Grove a favorite haunt, Feucht said. "It’s a great place to meet people, whether it’s a business meeting or you’re just getting together with friends on lunch break." Light and airy, the space features a blackboard menu that changes regularly. Feucht favors the spot’s breakfast sandwich made using homemade English muffins, which is essentially "their own version of the Egg McMuffin." A roast beef sandwich simply called "The Beef"—a hearty affair of roasted New Mexico–procured sirloin steak, caramelized onions, arugula, horseradish crème fraiche, whole grain mustard, and havarti on sourdough bread—is a winner, too. (600 Central Ave. SE, Suite A, Albuquerque New Mexico; 505-248-9800)

Photo credit: Zendo/Facebook

Best Coffee Shop: Zendo

Third Wave coffee—a.k.a. the artisanal, origin-centric stuff—has become hugely popular in Albuquerque of late, Feucht said. Among the several new shops, Zendo, is her favorite. Sparsely decorated with whitewashed brick walls, the space has the look of an art gallery. But “they have communal tables for working, and obviously wifi, and some couches,” she said. The espresso-based drinks are all great, but the cold-brewed ice coffee is the real standout. “And they serve it the correct way, with coffeeice cubes,” Feucht stressed.”  (413 2nd St. SW, Albuquerque, New Mexico; 505- 926-1636)

Best Hungover Brunch: The Shop

The Shop is located just off The University of New Mexico’s campus, “which also probably makes it ideal for hungover brunch.” Burritos, the duck confit sandwich, and chilaquiles scrambled with chili and eggs are the things to get here, but be forewarned: The Shop doesn’t have a liquor license. Which, Feucht said, makes it perfect for mornings when you can’t even bear the sight of alcohol. The atmosphere is slightly more subdued than if it served bottomless mimosas, but sometimes that’s just what you need. (2933 Monte Vista Blvd. NE, Albuquerque, NM; 505-433-2795)

Best Ethnic Eats: Pho Linh Vietnamese Grill and Restaurant

"Albuquerque is an interesting town for ethnic," Feucht mused. "We actually have a weirdly high number of Vietnamese restaurants relative to the other ethnic [cuisines]." Pho Linh is her favorite. The ceilings are the cheap cardboard ceiling tiles one finds in ’90s-era recreation rooms, but that’s not why Feucht comes here. The fare is relatively traditional—various types of the hot Vietnamese noodle soup, pho, noodles, and fresh young coconut—but executed par excellence. (5000 Central Ave. SE, Albuquerque, NM; 505-266-3368)

Photo credit: LosPoblanosInn/Facebook

Best White Tablecloth: La Merienda at Los Poblanos

Los Poblanos, a historic inn and organic farm on the East bank of the Rio Grande, is home to this chic-yet-rustic American eatery set in a barn-like dining room. “It’s the kind of white glove service where you barely even notice it,” Feucht said. “It’s anything but stuffy.” On the menu, expect chilled curried carrot soup dressed with a red chile oil drizzle and a dollop of crème fraîche, and smoked pork belly served alongside a green chile corn cake and stone fruit compote. (4803 Rio Grande Blvd. NW, Albuquerque, NM; 505-344-9297)

Best Serious Wine Spot: The Artichoke Cafe

The Artichoke Cafe “built their reputation on being The Wine Place and having a really, really great knowledgeable wine staff,” Feucht said. “They have a massive wine list,” though cocktails and beer are on the menu, too. (Feucht will often go for one of their classic cocktails.) The atmosphere is lovely, too; the restaurant doubles as an art gallery, with modern paintings and sculptures set throughout. (424 Central Ave. SE, Albuquerque, NM; 505-243-0200)

Best Road Trip Destination: The Love Apple in Taos, New Mexico

Although many locals might recommend a weekend trip to nearby Santa Fe, which is only an hour away, Feucht prefers to visit Taos, about an hour farther north. “It’s a small art-y little town with a nice ski area [and a] good diversity of restaurants,” she said. Before you go, make a reservation at The Love Apple, a modern American restaurant staffed and owned entirely by women. “I think it’s just a solidarity thing,” Feucht said of the gender breakdown. “There were several female chefs that knew each other and were like, ‘Let’s make it a positive female business.’” Go for a salad of raw beets, avocado, and ruby-red grapefruit tossed with a citrus vinaigrette and fresh mint. “I’m a big beet fan, and people who are bold enough to do raw beets get even more points from me,” Feucht said with admiration. It’s an unbeatable way (get it?) to wind down your trip. (803 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, Taos, NM; 575-751-0050)