I was in town for a couple of days and here’s my scoop:
- The Frontier on Central. It isn’t swank. Nothing fancy. And when it comes down to it – is pretty much a cafeteria looking like a relic from 1970. You order at a big, long counter then try to find a clean Formica table in a meandering room. Then you stare at a Keno-In-Reno like display, waiting for your number. It’s pretty much self-serve. Plastic forks, trays, no wait staff except for the busser. Not the type of place for a fancy date or business meeting... but who cares? It’s simple and it’s good. Really good. I had cheese enchiladas smothered in green chile. The enchilada was melted goodness with little chunks of onion for texture (in AZ and CA, I always ask for chopped onions to be added, as it’s not the norm). It was swimming in a green chile sauce that invoked enough heat to require lots of drinks and starches. These came in the form of rice and soda. It was served with sopapillas, which I dipped in honey, but also reserved enough to sample the red chile they have in croc-like pots for sampling. How’s that for a concept... give away one of your best dishes, though in small bites? It worked for me. Next time I’ll try something in the red and the green. I was a bit intimidated at first by the ordering process... a lot of choices. But when I got to the counter I asked the staff what was really good and they lighted up with recs. Gotta love that. Also gotta love the fact that Frontier is right across from the University, so their prices are great.
- El Patio. Another gem culled from the archives of this board. Just off Central on Harvard. It is tiny... an old house converted to a restaurant. I overshot it a few times. Had some challenges parking. Once inside it was a bit disorganized. The staff was running about like crazy. Not the place for a formal experience or business meeting... unless your colleagues are of the mindset to kick back and not worry about it. Even then, I’m not even sure you can get more than a party of four seated together. Regardless, their food was awesome. Same dish as the Frontier. This time I asked to have it sauced half & half (one side red, the other green). It was fantastic. They had beer which helped douse the heat. If this was near me, I’d eat there multiple times a week. As I was leaving town, I stopped by again and bought a jar each of their salsa, red chile and green chile. I’ll let you know it tastes.
- Los Cuates.
I visited their Lomas location, which seems to have been there a while. Based on earlier mentions, I might have been a bit too optimistic. Everything was decent... the server was prompt, the meal arrives in a flash – I loved the almost mole-like salsa that came with the complimentary chips. Again I ordered enchiladas, asking for half red/half green. Unfortunately they lacked the kick of the above-mentioned places. They were just kind or... there. There was plenty of sauce, but little distinction. The sopes were decent, but not as light and fluffy as others. In fact, I felt the whole dish was kind of heavy.
- Dos Hermanos. I saw a few references and so I tried it out, thinking it was a formal restaurant. I should have known better since it was in a new strip mall next to Starbucks. Still, I kept an open mind. I like some local chains and thought we’d give them a spin. Unfortunately it wasn’t memorable in any sense of the word. My bean and beef burrito was tough and dry, I had to dig through much of it to find melted cheese. The green chile was rarely found, and even then was neutral to bland. I was anticipating some heat, so I ordered a side of sour cream. The presentation was all too antiseptic. The burrito was assembled and zapped in the microwave, then wrapped in paper. The sour cream was served in a plastic cup with lid. There were no other dipping sauces on site. Like the atmosphere itself, the food was pretty forgettable. For the same price it’s much better to go with one of the local restaurants.
There were a few other places I wanted to try but couldn’t due to schedules... but there’s always next time. And if you have some other suggested gems like El Patio, post them!
I certainly agree with your top 2! Recently introduced to El Patio and have enjoyed both my meals there thus far.
And I'm a Frontier fan...love their burgers and tortilla soup with shredded chicken.
Another place worth checking out is Perea's...excellent for breakfast or lunch.
I'm also a fan of Sadie's. It's big and boomy, but the food rocks and the servings are generous...you'll eat for another day or two of one of their combination plates.
Yeah, add-ons are funny. The only one to get in that case was the chile sauce. A lot of people get the huge DH burritos to go, and chew on them in their pickup trucks - that's why the "smothered" option costs more. I wouldn't personally get sour cream or guacamole on a New Mexican food item (not really historically authentic; as much as my New Mexican wife enjoys guacamole she doesn't put it on NM food.
You'd have to work pretty hard to get a burrito up to $9 at Dos Hermanos, but I guess it could be done: http://www.redorgreen.com/menu.html Did you specify that they were to put green chile in your bean and beef burrito (since that would be a build-it-yourself burrito, you'd have to request it).
I ran by Frontier - they still have the green chile stew in the crock. :-)
Next time you're in town, try the carne adovada at Mary & Tito's (4th, N of Menaul). Get it with red chile on it.
I was a little confused at DH. My choice came with green chile on the inside, so I didn't quite get why one would spend extra to get it smothered. I debated that. I also debated getting the sour creme, guac., etc. Each added choice cost another buck or so more. There comes a point where the quick lunch becomes as pricey meal. Still, even smothered, I'm not quite sure if it's not better to go to El Patio, etc. A $9 counter lunch at DH can't be any better than a $10 seated lunch at EP or Frontier, right?
And you could be right about the Frontier crock. It makes more sense. Green simmers better. This was my first night in town for years. It looked more red than green, but then again I might have been comparing a pure sauce to what was on my metling pot plate.
It's a pity you didn't have them smother the burrito at Dos Hermanos. That way you could have tried their red and green chile sauces. I haven't been there in a while, but they used to be quite good.
I believe the Frontier's free sample crock is full of their green chile stew - unless something's changed.
Los Cuates' salsa is based on chiles pasillas, a dried sweetish red chile that's not at all New Mexican, and tomatillos. Took me about fifteen years to figure that out. :-) I've definitely noticed differences in Los Cuates since the Little Anitas people took it over. The recipes are the same (they say), but the "feel" is different. I've felt that the food at the newer Menaul store is better than that at the N Lomas store (the original, of course, is on the S side of Lomas - probably not the one you visited, or you would have mentioned how small it is) - better management supervising things.
I've only been to El Patio a couple of times over the last year - it's always fine. Glad you liked it.