Sights and Bites: Albuquerque, New Mexico

For every unique neighbourhood in Albuquerque, there's a restaurant to match.

Albuquerque may be known for its International Balloon Fiesta and the hit series Breaking Bad, but breaking bread here is becoming a major reason to visit as well. From traditional chile dishes to culinary creativity befitting New Mexico’s artistic legacy, Albuquerque’s blend of indigenous, Spanish, and American cultures pairs well with new influences. Pair a meal with a local craft brew, and you’ll soon begin to understand why New Mexico is called the Land of Enchantment.

Old Town

Image: Local shops and galleries have found homes in the adobe buildings off San Felipe Street in Old Town, Albuquerque.

PHOTOGRAPH BY IAN DAGNALL, ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Founded in 1706, Old Town is Albuquerque’s cultural and historic heart. Centuries-old adobe buildings­—once the homes of Albuquerque’s first Spanish settlers­—now house local boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants. The tree-shaded plaza sees summer fiestas, and thousands of candle-filled paper sacks called luminarias bathe Old Town in a warm glow during the holidays. The Albuquerque Museum showcases the work of Georgia O’Keeffe and towering skeletons of dinosaurs that once roamed New Mexico thrill at The New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science.

Classic Bites: Sip a sangria margarita on Church Street Café’s flagstone patio, then savour a plate of traditional Chile Rellenos or stacked enchiladas with an egg on top. For steak lovers, High Noon Restaurant & Saloon prepares classic cuts to order. At both historic properties, ask about the resident ghosts. Monica’s El Portal’s sopaipillas are always fresh and fluffy, and Duran’s Pharmacy’s diner has been a local favourite since the heyday of Route 66.

Image: The Golden Crown Bakery in Old Town, Albuquerque, offers diners empanadas and lattes.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MICHAEL VENTURA, ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Trendy Bites: Enjoy the sunset from Season’s Rotisserie & Grill upstairs patio, then move to the dining room for handmade winter squash and four cheese ravioli or braised Colorado lamb shank. Vinaigrette’s hearty gourmet salads are made with produce grown at its northern New Mexico farm.

Unexpected Bites: Experience powerful flamenco while delighting in Spanish tapas at Tablao Flamenco within Hotel Albuquerque. La Crepe Michel creates savoury and dessert crepes in a kitchen that could be straight out of the Brittany countryside. Golden Crown Panaderia is worth a visit for its wood-oven pizza and fruit empanadas, but it’s famous for its bread sculptures that range from portraits to Thanksgiving turkeys.

Downtown

Once a major stop for Route 66 travellers, Albuquerque’s Downtown is experiencing an infusion of young entrepreneurial energy that’s bringing concerts, theatre shows, local breweries, and diverse food back to its blocks. Lunch spots bustle during the work day, and on nights and weekends opera-goers head to the Pueblo-Deco KiMo Theatre, and punk rockers make their way to the Launchpad.

Image: The KiMo Theater in Downtown Albuquerque is protected by the National Park Service as a historic landmark.
PHOTOGRAPH BY AGE FOTOSTOCK, ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Classic Bites: Slate Street Café has fun with classics. Try the green chile mac & cheese, shredded squash rolled enchiladas or maple dijon glazed salmon. Le Troquet may be small, but there’s a big demand for classic French dishes; make a reservation. Artichoke Café is Albuquerque’s go-to for relaxed fine dining.

Trendy Bites: Standard Diner pays homage to the Mother Road with creative twists on classic dishes, like its country-fried ahi tuna and habañero chicken enchiladas. A neighbourhood favourite, red-bricked Farina Pizzeria marries gourmet wood-oven pizza with Italian and Spanish wines. With dishes such as classic paella, MÁS Tapas y Vino at the historic Hotel Andaluz celebrates bold Spanish cuisine and wine.

Unexpected Bites: The bustling Grove Café & Market serves healthy and hearty breakfasts, salads, and sandwiches such as the Croque Monsieur; Breaking Bad fans may recognise it as a filming location. Pasion Latin Fusion Restaurant dishes up Latin American street food favourites like banana chip fish tacos and avocado panna cotta (Italian sweetened cream dessert). Featured in Tony Hillerman’s mystery novels, Frontier Restaurant is filled with studying students, eclectic art, and the best cinnamon rolls in the Southwest.

Nob Hill

Image: Cars zoom past Kellys Brew Pub in Nob Hill, Albuquerque.
PHOTOGRAPH BY EFRAIN PADRO, ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Nob Hill still glows with the neon of Route 66, and today this pedestrian-friendly stretch of Central Avenue is lined with record shops, art galleries, and some of Albuquerque’s best restaurants. The street is sometimes closed to traffic for events and concerts, and patio diners flock to the area to enjoy Albuquerque’s perfect evenings.

Classic Bites: Scalo Northern Italian Grill is a long-time local favourite that still serves up surprises such as its agniolotti di costole corte (short rib raviolis); on weekends create your own Bloody Mary with as much bacon, crab legs, hot wings, and assorted cheeses as your glass can handle. Upscale with a neighbourhood feel, Elaine’s has fun with a diverse seasonal menu including Elaine’s crab cake with remoulade beurre blanc and yellow fin tuna with chilli puree. Yanni’s Greek fare is accompanied by live jazz Friday and Saturday nights.

Trendy Bites: Housed in a former 1940s auto dealership, Kellys Brew Pub’s patio is a favourite summer spot for diner classics, like the Albuquerque Turkey or creamy green chile chicken soup, and 20 in-house brews. A 2013 James Beard Award nominee for Best New Restaurant, Zacatecas Tacos & Tequila specialises in­—you guessed it—gourmet street tacos and more than 60 tequilas and mescals. Matanza blends New Mexico flavours with global dishes to create plates such as ahi tuna wonton tacos and fideo carbonara (cabernet-braised pork belly with red chile), served with more than 100 New Mexico beers and wines.

Unexpected Bites: Stylish Zinc Wine Bar & Bistro blends French and American tastes, resulting in dishes like seared flank steak au poivre and house-made braised beef ravioli bourguignon. It’s Cellar Bar showcases live music ranging from jazz to indie. There’s always a line out the door for Tia B’s la Wafflería’s smoked salmon, carne adovada (chile-marinated meat), and other savoury waffles. The menu at Frenchish leans decidedly classic French, but items such as the brioche-bun carrot dog and other gourmet vegetarian offerings ensure there’s something for everyone.

North Valley

Image: Cooks roast green chiles at El Pinto Restaurant and Cantina in Albuquerque, New Mexico. 
PHOTOGRAPH BY BLAINE HARRINGTON III, ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

This bucolic stretch between Old Town and the Village of Corrales follows the Rio Grande through quiet horse pastures, adobe neighbourhoods, and the cottonwood bosque (forest) that lines the river. The Rio Grande Nature Center is a popular destination for birders and hikers enjoying the many trails that wind through the woods. Kayakers and stand-up paddle boarders frequent the river, and cyclists ply the paved bike path that travels along the river all the way to the ABQ BioPark.

Classic Bites: Heads turn when a plate of sizzling fajitas is served at Casa de Benavidez. El Pinto serves New Mexico fare with awarding-winning salsa and on-site roasted chile on its expansive garden patio. Try the red chile ribs, which the restaurant marinates overnight in a house-made sauce.

Trendy Bites: Farm & Table serves only what’s in season and available locally, creating dishes like the winter vegetables plate and country fried quail. While enjoying a meal on the restaurant's patio, look out over the gardens and greenhouse where the kitchen grows much of its produce. In the evenings, the space is lit with strung bulbs and offers perfect sunset views for diners.

Unexpected Bites: Located on a working organic farm with an upscale bed and breakfast, the restaurant at Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm is run by James Beard Award semifinalist Jonathan Perno and known for its house-made bratwurst, field plate with squash ravioli, and other seasonal dishes. The Pueblo Harvest Café & Bakery within the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center blends traditional Native American flavours for such plates as bison carpaccio, blue corn fried chicken, New Mexico ramen with sliced pork belly, and Ohkay Owingeh oven bread pudding with caramel sauce.

South Valley

Colourful murals and art splash Albuquerque’s South Valley, which hosts festivals throughout the year celebrating Hispanic art and culture, including November’s Marigold Parade and Celebration for Dia de Los Muertos. The ABQ BioPark, with its zoo, botanic garden, and aquarium, is a favourite summer respite, and the National Hispanic Cultural Center hosts events and concerts year-round, including performances by the New Mexico Philharmonic.

Classic Bites: Since 1929, El Modelo has been the place for chicharrones (fried pork belly) and tamales. Barelas Coffee House is an always-packed neighbourhood diner that serves some of the city’s best huevos rancheros, carne adovada, menudo (beef and chile soup), and posole (hearty corn soup).

Trendy Bites: Pupuseria y Restaurant Salvadoreño prepares authentic Salvadorian cuisine such as pupusas (thick meat-filled corn tortillas), soups, and aguas frescas (natural fruit drinks).

Unexpected: A fruit poleta (popsicle) is a must after a jalapeño-lime marinated steak burrito from Pop Fizz at the National Hispanic Cultural Center.

Northeast Heights

Image: The Sandia Aerial Peak Tram carries travellers from the northeastern edge of Albuquerque to the Sandia Mountains.
PHOTOGRAPH BY PARKER PHOTOGRAPHY, ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

The Northeast Heights rise to the foothills of the Sandia Mountains, which are ribboned with hiking and mountain biking trails. Ride the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway 2.7 miles to the mountain’s peak at 10,378 feet for sweeping views of the sunset and Albuquerque’s lights.

Classic Bites: Family-owned, long-time neighbourhood favourites Monroe’s and La Salita dish up New Mexico classics like Frito pies, chile rellenos, and blue corn enchiladas. The views and taco plate at Sandiago's Grill at the base of the tramway brings people from all over Albuquerque. Trombino’s Bistro Italiano has been serving its family recipes including chicken involtini (ham- and asiago-stuffed chicken breast) since 1979.

Trendy Bites: Vintage 423’s menu ranges from lobster omelets to Colorado lamb racks, and the restaurant offers an extensive wine and cocktail list served in a chic atmosphere. Savoy Bar & Grill pares California wines with its vegetarian gargouillou (vegetable dish) and chèvre ravioli with Angus meatballs.

Unexpected Bites: Perched atop Sandia Resort & Casino, Bien Shur and its rooftop lounge have some of Albuquerque’s best city lights and mountain views. Prime meat cuts and a lengthy wine list are served in décor inspired by Sandia Pueblo.

Header Image: A waitress works under the fluorescent lights of the 66 Diner along historic Route 66 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBERT HARDING, ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

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