Need the Scoop on Albuquerque.
I'll be coming to a conference in Albuquerque and have two nights free for dinner. What's not to miss?
I am not looking for suggestions that are over-the-top high end. I am looking for something that I wouldn't normally get to eat here on the East Coast. I am looking for fun mid-price range (or less) places that would be great with a group... or the hidden gems that I could walk in by myself and get a seat.
Will be staying at the Marriott Tamayo, if that helps.
Also, any suggestions for specialty food items that I should be bringing home for my chef husband?
Lucky you! You'll be staying at one of the finest properties in New Mexico, and its correct name is the Hyatt Regency Tamaya. It is located on Santa Ana Pueblo, about 20 miles north of Albuquerque. Their on-site restaurant, "The Corn Maiden," is not to be missed, but it will not accommodate a large group. You might want to try "The Prarie Star," also on Santa Ana land. The food is fantastic and the ambiance exceptional. It is located in an old hacienda.
If you're from the East, you'll find New Mexico restaurants reasonable. Santa Fe does have several which compare to New York prices, but generally the bill will be considerably less.
If you decide to drive into Albuquerque for a night on the town, you might want to try El Pinto (see www.elpinto.com), especially if you're coming in spring, summer or fall. Their extensive gardens are lovely with fountains and strolling mariachis. They can handle a crowd.
For an unusual experience, take the aerial tram to the top of the Sandia Mountains as dusk begins to fall and the lights of the city begin their evening show. You could eat at High Finance at the summit or Santiago's at the base. Nearby Country Line Barbecue is another alternative for diners taking the tram.
Now if you're looking for food items to take back to your husband, you'll want to add green chile to your list. It's the state veggie, and no New Mexican can live long without a generous dose. You can find it frozen (the best alternative to fresh) in any grocery, but if you don't want to bother with a cold pack, it also comes in a jar. Another chile product you can't find anywhere else is Chimayo red chile, grown in a tiny town north east of Santa Fe where you'll find the Santuario de Chimayo, a healing site. The chile is sold dried and should be available most anywhere. The last item should be blue corn meal, and since Santa Ana Pueblo produces most of the U.S. blue corn, you shouldn't have trouble finding some to take home.
Have fun and enjoy our Land of Enchantment.
El Pinto is an excellent recommendation: it's that rare restaurant that's both a lovely setting and has good food, and it's also large enough that it can serve a large group without blinking, plus it's quite close to where you're staying. Ask for the patio.
But honestly, if you want the true New Mexico experience, you can't beat the Frontier. An old-fashioned diner that covers half a city block at the corner of Central Avenue (Rt 66) and Cornell, just across from the main entrance of UNM, it is a local landmark known both for its food and its clientele. Let's just say that it's the city in microcosm: I've seen mayor Marty Chavez eating two tables down from one of the neighborhood street people who managed to cadge enough quarters for a bowl of green chile stew. It's one of my favorite restaurants in the world.
I'm not wowed by El Pinto, frankly.
Prairie Star (near your hotel) is fabulous. In Bernalillo is The Range Cafe, a local homey place with good grub. Closer to town on 4th Street is Sophia's Cafe, a TINY little joint with about 7 tables and 4-star food that befuddles the mind, especially once you've seen the condition of the bathroom. ;-)
Seriously, Sophia's is one of my absolute favorites in town. Hours might vary, so call ahead.
And I'll second the recommendation for the Frontier - its a student hangout with cheap food and great atmosphere. You can get actually good coffee down further on Central at The Grove Market & Cafe.
Finally, the views are as good as the food at Sandiago's at the Tram - this is the restaurant at the base of the tram, the one at the top is icky. Good excuse for a tram ride, too. :-)
Good luck, and have fun!