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May 15, 2011 08:59 PM

Such a Thing as Good New Mexican Food in ABQ?

Yes, intentionally provocative.

I've read through A LOT of threads, plus lots of reviews on other sites, blogs, Yelp, etc. There seems to be little consensus with most people having their pet fav restaurants and dishes for (New) Mexican food. This often suggests there isn't anywhere especially good. And my meals, so far, are confirming this.

So far I've hit Patio, Frontier, and Garcia's (on 4th). I tried to hit Mary's & Tito's twice, but both times it was closed. (The hours I found were wrong.) There've been elements from these places I've liked, but really the best part were the fresh tortillas and sopaipillas.

To me, most the red chile sauces taste a bit harsh (harsh as in bitter or tinny, not spicy) and flat, reminding me of Old El Paso enchilada sauce from a can. The one at Patio was better to my palate, but only because it was lighter and brighter, perhaps cut. This seemed to be the case for their green chile, too, which made it worse than the others, imo.

The tacos seemed to be uniformly bad, barely a step up from Taco Bell. In fact, I'd say the chain Taco Time makes better crisp-shell tacos. They're all a far cry from the quality I grew up with since we fried our own shells at home and the Cal-Mex places we went to fried their own, too. And the meat is just mushy, flavorless ground beef.

I've had a similar problem at Tex-Mex places in Texas. I'm starting to wonder if the nature of Mexican food in restaurants -- ie, the emphasis on fast and cheap and big -- just keeps it from being even as good as what I would expect from a merely decent home cook.

So, please prove me wrong. Can I get good quality New Mexican food made skillfully to order with good quality ingredients, well-seasoned and well-balanced in a restaurant?

Frontier Restaurant
2400 Central Ave SE, Albuquerque, NM 87106

El Patio De Albuquerque
142 Harvard Dr SE, Albuquerque, NM 87106

Mary's & Tito's Cafe
2711 4th St NW, Albuquerque, NM 87107

Garcia's Kitchen-the Original
1113 4th St NW, Albuquerque, NM 87102

Taco Time
2520 Idaho St, Elko, NV 89801

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  1. Tacos aren't New Mexican.

    Why don't you try the places people consistently recommend - Mary & Tito's, Padilla's - during business hours? ;-)

    5 Replies
    1. re: Erich

      Well, two of those three are consistently recommended (again, I thoroughly read recs) and the other was recommended by a friend. I'd like to hit Mary's and Tito's. I just need accurate hours. The tacos were part of combo platters.

      1. re: extramsg

        You know how subjective recs are - myself, I've never been bowled over by El Patio (though I'd pick it over the other two you mention) and think of Garcia's as sort of . . . meh. I affirmatively dislike the Frontier.

        I think red is a challenge - there aren't many restaurants where I like it. I note a difference between the stuff made with pods vs. that made with powder (often more bitter). Green is easier to get right, in my opinion, though there are about three different schools of thought on making green (and I don't happen to prefer the one to which my wife's family subscribes, but what are you going to do?).

        Give Padilla's a shot - it's cash-only and it fills up fast. Portions are not huge, but I've found their food to be worth the hassle. FWIW, it's the one place my fussy in-laws (native northern New Mexicans) consistently will take themselves for "Spanish" food. Both their green and red are worth trying.

        And if you go to Mary's, get the red - I never understand why people bother with the green there, when the red is exceptional. Her carne adovada is probably my favorite presently available for purchase.

        1. re: Erich

          Hit Mary's & Tito's today. I appreciated that the rice and beans were both carefully prepared and well-seasoned. The rice still had some tooth to the grains and the beans were creamy and luscious. The rest was a bit more mixed. Tortillas were better elsewhere, though they weren't bad. Relleno and enchilada were both pretty good, though some little details were missed, like the cheese in the enchilada not being melted. The carne adovada was pretty dry, though tender. Got green on the former and red on the latter. The red did lack the harsh bitterness of some of the other versions, but I wouldn't say it was especially enjoyable. It tasted a bit flat to me. Not sure if it was lack of seasoning or just needs something to balance out the flavor. It's certainly possible that the simplicity of the sauces in NM just seem flat to me by comparison with similarly used sauces in Mexico or California.

          Mary's & Tito's Cafe
          2711 4th St NW, Albuquerque, NM 87107

          1. re: Erich

            Count me as another one who finds that many reds have a bitter note to them. I tend to stick with green, as a result.

            1. re: Erich

              Went to Padilla's for a late lunch. Not impressed. Like the sopaipillas. Very good. The green chile was very thin, though, and lacking in actual chile. The red was also thin, but had that same harshness behind the thin flavor. If not cut with whatever they're cutting it with, I suspect it would have been harsh as well. The tortillas for the enchiladas were very dry and almost tough, but still not bad. Didn't try the adovada. Beans were very bland. Worst so far. The rice was better on flavor but very mushy. Relleno was easily the best part of the meal.

        2. I may be a heretic, but I like the food at Malone's on Osuna. I agree with you (and disagree with so many others) that the red chile at Mary and Tito's and some others is bitter, not flavorful and savory. I like the savory flavors at Malone's. And food is cooked to order. I especially like the low carb chicken breast. You might also try Cecelia's (sorry I don't know the address offhand, but it's approximately 8th and Gold or Silver)

          1. I may be considered a heretic, but I do not enjoy the red sauce at Mary and Tito's. Like some other restaurants, it is too bitter and harsh for my taste. I prefer a more savory chile. I like hot, but not bitter. You might try Malone's on Osuna (they make a really nice low carb Chicken Breast ) or Cecelia's downtown -- around 8th and Gold or Silver. No fast food in either place.

            1. Hey, you like what you like, which is cool, but is it possible you just don't like NM-style food? As a yardstick for us, are there any NM-style places in other cities that you specifically *do* like?

              1 Reply
              1. re: finlero

                Hi finlero, actually I LOVE NM food....I just don't like BITTER/ HARSH red chile. I adore green chile, hot, mild, or in between. I love most of the red chile sauces whether hot or mild, but like extramsg, not when they are bitter or harsh. I can't tell you of NM-style places in other cities that I've liked because I've never found any. Nobody cooks NM like NM cooks do. In the midwest, there is no heat at all and everything comes out of a can. In the east, I haven't found any. In AZ or CA or CO, nothing compares to NM. Even TX doesn't cook NM style. They may call it "Mexican" or southwest", but IMHO, no comparison. I love posole, menudo, and chicos. I am such a fan of NM style that I bought an artisan-made micaceous clay pot to cook in. Ahh, taste just doesn't run to bitter/harsh. ;-)

              2. Extramsg, Maybe a modern take on traditional NM cooking, like what they offer at Casa Vieja, is more like what you're looking for. (Not quite in Albuquerque, but close enough in Corrales)

                Casa Vieja
                4541 Corrales RD, Corrales, NM 87048