An Albuquerque Appetite: Where to Eat in New Mexico's Biggest City

Albuquerque is a diverse, artistic town with a fascinatingly layered history. In the more than 300 years since its founding, the town has seen Old West outlaws, Route 66 road trippers and the literal rise of the world's largest hot-air balloon festival. Its unique heritage influences Albuquerque's culinary scene, where you will find everything from Native American cuisine to Mexican paleterías to the VIP of New Mexican food, the chile.

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Classic New Mexican: Mary & Tito's Cafe

Mary & Tito's has been a local favorite since 1963. Meals don't get more definitively New Mexican than the dishes here, which include hearty stuffed sopaipillas (puffy deep-fried dough pockets) and a series of carne adovada (pork marinated in a red chile blend) specials that have garnered Mary & Tito's many accolades. The restaurant earned an America's Classics Award from the James Beard Foundation in 2010. From the moment you see the charming adobe-and-viga facade, you'll know you've come to the right place for a true Southwestern dining experience.

Native American: Pueblo Harvest Cafe

The Pueblo Harvest Cafe offers a welcome opportunity to appreciate Native American cuisine. Careful attention is given to re-creating and honoring the traditional foods of Native American tribes from across the U.S., resulting in dishes that are uniquely culturally significant — and also very tasty. Among the menu offerings are blue corn pinon pancakes made with blue corn from the Pojoaque Pueblo and the bison poyha sandwich, from a Plains recipe. The Pueblo Harvest Cafe serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Both the restaurant and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center where it is based are owned by New Mexico’s 19 Pueblo tribes.

New Mexican Breakfast and Lunch: Tia Betty Blue's

If you had to reduce New Mexican food to one word, there’s no question what that word would be: chile. Chile is the staple ingredient that distinguishes New Mexican from other regional cuisines, having been cultivated in the area for centuries. Red and green chiles come from the same plant; if a green chile is not harvested, it ripens and becomes red. Why are we sharing this chile trivia? Because in Albuquerque, chile is serious business. Just ask the folks at Tia Betty Blue’s, a beloved breakfast and lunch spot where you’ll find some of the hottest chiles around. (You can ask for mild, though.) Top menu picks include the huevos rancheros and enchiladas. Tia B’s other popular breakfast venue is La Wafflería, where you can customize the waffle of your dreams.

Spanish: The Cellar

An ambiance of bonhomie permeates The Cellar, perhaps because tapas are among the most social of foods. Order a bottle of Tempranillo from a friendly server, select an array of flavorful tapas frías and calientes, and share an indelible evening out with friends. Among the tapas highlights are the patatas bravas and the croquetas de pollo, balls of ham and chicken that melt just as they hit your taste buds. Exposed brick, wood accents and low lighting give The Cellar a true Spanish-tavern feel.

Diner Food: Standard Diner

Get your Route 66 kicks at this diner on Albuquerque’s Central Avenue, which was once part of the “Mother Road.” The Standard Diner, founded in 2006 in a 1930s gas station, brings a smart, urban update to the classic diner styling. The comfort-food-filled menu also plays with the classics: For instance, instead of chicken-fried steak, here you can order country-fried ahi tuna. The Bulldog is the Standard’s green chile cheeseburger — as the menu quips, “You can’t be a restaurant in New Mexico & not have a green chile cheeseburger, that’s what this is.”

Burgers: Bistronomy B2B

"B2B" stand for "beers to burgers," and the offerings of both at this hip hangout are exceptional. Choose from inventive burgers like the Pierre, with Gruyère and mushroom demi-glace, or the Rosa, with chile queso, Hatch green chile and tortilla chips - a clever take on a staple New Mexican dish, the green chile cheeseburger. B2B has an uncommon range of veggie burger options, such as a Thai quinoa-kale patty and one featuring edamame, cashew and wasabi. The beer and wine list offers local craft brews and varietals.

Bakery: Golden Crown Panaderia

New Mexico’s official state cookie is the biscochito, an anise-and-cinnamon-flavored cookie with a long regional tradition of being served at celebrations and holidays. At Golden Crown Panaderia, you will find the quintessential biscochito, as well as novel flavor variations like cappuccino and blue corn. Another specialty at this neighborhood bakery is the green chile bread, with chile from the pepper’s epicenter, Hatch, New Mexico. Besides baked treats, Golden Crown offers sandwiches and New Mexico-style pizzas; crust options include blue corn from the Isleta Pueblo and green chile with Parmesan.

Pizza: Farina Pizzeria & Wine Bar

Farina Pizzeria excels at pizzas with the ideal balance of crisp crust, melting cheese and fresh-ingredient toppings. At the original East Downtown location, brick walls and close-together tables provide a built-in sense of camaraderie and celebration; Farina Alto in the Northeast Heights retains the original’s charm in a larger space. Favorite pies include the margherita and the salsiccia, with sweet fennel sausage and roasted onions. Take care not to run out of room and regretfully have to forgo the housemade gelato.

Sandwiches: Relish Gourmet Sandwiches

Local sandwich shop Relish serves sandwiches that never fail to delight. The menu is populated by locally inspired sandwiches like the Lobo Beef and the Isotopes, respectively named for the University of New Mexico mascot and Albuquerque’s minor league baseball team. Other sandwiches — particularly the Cubano and the Reuben — may not be unique to Relish, but they are uniquely tasty. Relish is a great stopping point for a fresh and filling lunch.

Local and Lavender: Los Poblanos

There’s something about the atmosphere at the restaurant at Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm. Maybe lavender from the 25-acre organic lavender farm outside subtly infuses the air. Or maybe the 1930s Southwestern architecture provides an other-era vibe. Whatever it is, you will feel transported as you enjoy the breakfast and dinner farm-to-table menus, featuring items such as breakfast shakshuka and (on the dinner menu) mole negro braised lamb. Los Poblanos sources ingredients from its own farm and other local farms.

Latin American: Guava Tree Cafe

The paradox of choice suggests that the more options you have, the harder it becomes to choose. While studying the concise menu at the Latin American lunch spot Guava Tree Cafe, you may discover that there’s a (not at all scientifically proven) reverse paradox of choice too: The fewer the items, the more difficult the choice. Whatever you choose, you’ll be happy, whether you go with the guava pollito sandwich, Caribe turkey sandwich, arepa del perro (actually beef, with avocado and sweet plantains) or any other offering.

Brunch: The Grove Cafe & Market

The Grove played a pivotal role in the final episode of Breaking Bad (hint: stevia is involved), but its bright and bustling atmosphere is a far cry from Walter White’s underbelly-of-society world. Its breakfast and lunch offerings are delectable, whether you opt for early-morning poached eggs or a midday grilled cheese with kale. The Grove’s fluffy English muffins, lush cupcakes and bite-sized macarons serve well as to-go souvenirs.

Tea: St. James Tearoom

“There are some people who cannot bear a party of pleasure,” Willoughby proclaims in Sense and Sensibility. If you’re one of them, avoid the St. James Tearoom. During two hours at the St. James, you will drink teas and sample sweet and savory morsels, all in the comfort of a cozy alcove for just your party. Each space honors a historical or literary figure: Janeites can occupy the Pemberley parlor, while seafarer types can try Captain James Cook’s HMS Endeavour. The menus, which rotate monthly, are inspired by history, culture and literature. Reservations are required, and seating area requests can be made only by phone.

Ramen: Naruto

Albuquerque’s desert climate means chilly nights during the colder months, when few things are more appealing than a giant bowl of ramen. At Naruto, across the street from the University of New Mexico, traditional Hakata-style ramen provides a toasty way to beat the cold. Hakata-style ramen uses thin eggless noodles, not the wavy noodles often associated with ramen. The popular tonkotsu ramen bowl is made with pork broth and chashu pork and can be ordered either regular or “super rich.”

Old Town Romantic: Restaurant Antiquity

The Old Town neighborhood was Albuquerque’s original site, when the town was established in 1706. Tucked away in one of Old Town’s historic adobe buildings is Restaurant Antiquity, a romantic fine-dining restaurant that feels both classic and timeless. Cozy booths and tables provide an intimate dining experience; your date will only have eyes for you. The continental menu focuses on steaks, other meat dishes and seafood. Centerpiece dishes include the chateaubriand beef tenderloin and the Henry IV filet mignon, wrapped in bacon and topped with an artichoke heart and bearnaise sauce.

French...ish: Frenchish

Its cheeky name tells you a good deal about Frenchish, where dishes get an inventive infusion of French culinary allure. The frequently changing menu features items that will appeal to American-fare enthusiasts and Francophiles alike, such as steak tartare, foie gras and a ruby trout fillet. Each dish is meticulously executed and thoroughly flavorful, which isn’t surprising: Frenchish’s co-chef-owner is Jennifer James, one of Albuquerque’s most-distinguished chefs. The ambiance is pristine and modern, with a chic minimalist edge.

Ribs and Classic New Mexican: El Pinto

El Pinto is a sprawling New Mexican institution in Albuquerque's North Valley, with five patios, a cantina and a series of dining rooms. The menu is nearly as extensive as the space: Pages of New Mexican dishes include green chile stew, posole and sopaipillas stuffed with red or green chile and a meat selection. Top 5 Restaurants rated El Pinto's red chile ribs among the best in the nation. With more than 160 tequila selections and live music throughout the year, an evening at El Pinto is always festive fun.

Paleteria: Pop Fizz

Paletas are Mexican frozen pops, traditionally sold out of street carts and storefronts. When they started Pop Fizz, Rafael Alvarez and sons Carlos and Lorenzo gave the paletería a new look, providing the traditional store with an American soda shop styling. They have since opened two food trucks, in addition to their location at Albuquerque’s National Hispanic Cultural Center. Pop Fizz’s all-natural paletas are either fruit- or cream-based, and the menu also offers the one thing better than a meaty taco: the ice cream taco. The storefront’s menu features savory options like frito pie and jumbo burritos with fries inside, along with boozy shakes.

Roaring '20s Romantic: Vernon's Speakeasy

You’ll have to know the password to get into this speakeasy-style steakhouse. (Don’t worry, the staff is actually really welcoming—friendly Burqueños are not the closed-door type.) Dimly lit and evocative of a 1920s Prohibition-defying joint, Vernon’s is a romantic place to spend a night out with your sweetheart. The steaks include a 21-day dry-aged rib eye and a 16-ounce New York strip. Vernon’s Black Diamond Lounge has a regular rotation of musical acts, as well as swanky artisan cocktails.

Albuquirky: Green Jeans Farmery

Albuquerque's laid-back desert vibes have made it a hippie haven for decades, and there's no better place to just hang out and appreciate life than Green Jeans Farmery. The buildings at this gathering spot are constructed out of shipping containers, a testament to Albuquerque's creative-quirky personality. Food options range from Amore Neapolitan Pizzeria to Rockin' Taco, Chumlys Southwestern, and liquid nitrogen ice cream at Nitro Fog Creamery. You can eat at several indoor or outdoor dining areas or take your food to the Santa Fe Brewing Company's shipping-container structure, to enjoy it over a cold brew.

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