A day and a half in Albuquerque
I will be in Albuquerque for a day and a half in September with my husband and 13 yo son. The way the itinerary is shaping up, we will be arriving at ALQ on Saturday mid afternoon and will be staying in Old Town until Monday morning, then leaving early Monday morning to drive to Taos (maybe stopping by Bandelier on the way), 2 nights in Taos, and then driving on to Santa Fe (where I have a meeting at the end of the week.) I've been searching the board for ideas, and am starting at the beginning of the trip in Albuquerque. Where we live, we can't get any decent Mexican or NM cuisine, so we would like to focus largely on restaurants with great local cuisine and ingredients. Any price point ok...we're fine with anything from a dive to fancy as long as we love the food. Looking at the boards so far, it looks like Mary & Tito's is a must. I'm thinking maybe we could start strong and go there for an early dinner on Saturday when we arrive. Also it looks like either Duran's Pharmacy or Cecelia's would be convenient for lunch on Sunday. Any preference between these two? So I'm still looking for:
Someplace for breakfast. We are renting a townhouse that has coffee and a kitchen. I'm not interested in cooking, but a bakery in Old Town area where we can pick up breakfast stuff would be great.
Also need someplace for dinner Sunday night, as it looks like many of the recommended places aren't open for dinner. Frontier seems to get more mixed reviews. Is that convenient to Old Town? I know Seasons isn't really NM. Is it good?
Also, on our drive up to Taos (and I suspect we will be going the quicker, less scenic route on the way up, and taking our time on the way back) we will probably need to either stop somewhere for lunch or take along picnic stuff if we decide to stop at Bandelier. Any suggestions either for someplace along the way or a place in ABQ to pick up good picnic food?
Breakfast near Old Town - hopefully others will chime in, but the Grove or Flying Star would work. The Grove's strongest suit is its kitchen fare, but the baked things are pretty solid, notably the English muffins. Flying Star is a local chain. I don't absolutely love their bakery stuff but it's nothing if not reliable.
Dinner Sunday night - Frontier is a really great fast food place, but it's still just that (and dry if it matters to you). If you calibrate your expectations as such, I think the odds are you'll enjoy it. Seasons is a little plasticky vibe-wise, but the food is reliably fine. There's a fun jazz jam on the patio each Sunday night during the summer too, may still be going in September. If you're willing to get out of Old Town, you have lots of options. If you're hellbent on New Mexican style (nothing wrong with that), the Range up in Bernalillo is always fun and tasty. If you're willing to part with the NM thing, Budai has absolutely excellent Chinese and Taiwanese, and throw a rock and you'll hit a great Vietnamese place in ABQ, my favorite is Huong Thao but Viet Taste is a little more nicely appointed and also quite good.
Lunch en route to Taos - board search for Santa Fe, or Rancho de Chimayo in Chimayo (high road is the slightly slower route but it's not crazy out of the way).
For a great New Mexican-style breakfast or lunch, try Barela's or Garcia's, both very casual and inexpensive. As finlero says, Frontier is fast food, but it's fresh and tasty. Decor is minimal, ambiance is lively.
Church Street Cafe is open for breakfast and it is one of the oldest buildings in Old Town. I didn't have breakfast there, but the dinner I had was good and the setting is beautiful.
Durans restaurant isn't open on Sunday's. I wouldn't head up to Bernalillo just to eat at The Range Cafe. There are 2 locations in ABQ. I also don't think it's all that special.
There are lots of store to pick up picnic supplies: sunflower, trader joes to name just 2. You could also get some take out from The Grove. If you want to stop along the was, I recommend stopping at the Outlet mall, just south of Santa Fe. It is right off I25. There is a wonderful French cafe in there http://cafevingtcinq.com/.
We like Holy Cow on Central for lunch or dinner; also Farina's.
Golden Crown Panaderia is near Old Town. I find it overpriced and too sweet for my taste, but it is a classic NM bakery with biscochitos, green chile cheese bread and so on, and may be worth a visit just to look and try samples. It's been featured on nearly every Food Network show ever to pass through Albuquerque.
If you'll have a car, I wouldn't stay only in Old Town for food, though. Driving around Albuquerque is easy, and cheap or free parking is pretty plentiful.
I vote for Duran's over Cecilia's, mainly because I think their red chile is better.
For bread and other breakfast-y supplies, I think either the La Montanita Food Co-op on Central Ave in the University area, and/or La Quiche Parisienne downtown are you're best bets. La Quiche has great croissants and their multi-grain ciabatta is fantastic. Definitely not NM-oriented, but excellent bread. The Co-op has a few nice breads from the Sage Bakehouse, and a lot of other local foods (tortillas, chiles, cheeses, local eggs). It may work well for your picnic supplies, too. (My sister and I always take their breakfast burritos for our drives to Taos, but they may be considered too healthy for NM BB purists.) For a sit-down breakfast near Old Town, Slate Street is very good. Owned by the daughter of the people who own Duran's, it's not all NM-food, but they do serve the aforementioned Duran's red chile on their very good huevos rancheros. And, since you don't mind dives, I'd also recommend Ezra's Place for breakfast. It's in a bowling alley on 4th St NW, a mile or so north of Mary & Tito's, and they have blue corn pancakes, enchiladas and all the typical NM breakfast fare, but with a creative twist.
Seasons is definitely good, but since your focus is on local cuisine and your time is limited, I wouldn't bother going there. It's very California/New American-style food and you probably have something similar near where you live. I've heard a lot of glowing reports of Zacatecas Tacos near the Co-op in the UNM area, and that might work well for Sunday dinner. Again, it's not pure NM like Mary & Tito's, more of an upscale Mexican taqueria with an NM influence. It was started by the chef at Santa Fe's highly regarded Compound restaurant. (Unfortunately, most of the more homey Mexican places are going to be closed on Sunday.)
Since you'll be taking the main road up to Taos and not stopping in Santa Fe, one place to have lunch on the way might be Embudo Station. Tiny menu and simple food -- mostly salads and burgers made with organic NM beef -- but it's nice food, and the restaurant is set right in the middle of one of the most stunning stretches of gorge on your drive. (Even the most direct drive to Taos has some beautiful scenery.) There are a couple of vineyards along the way, too, if that sort of thing interests you. My favorite is La Chiripada, but it's a couple of miles off the main road.
Right in Taos, I think Dragonfly Cafe and Graham's Grill are very good lunch places. Orlando's for totally straight-up Northern NM food, and Guadalajara Grill for Mexican.
Hope you have a wonderful visit. Please report afterward.
You've already received lots of useful information, but I'll throw in my two cents too. . .
While La Quiche Parisienne is a great little place to pick up a nice breakfast downtown, they are closed both Saturday and Sunday when you'll be in town.
Our favorite two places for a Mexican Sunday brunch/breakfast are Vic's Daily Cafe, 3600 Osuna, NE 505-3441-9710, or Casa de Benavidez, 8032 4th Street, NW, 505-898-3311. Neither are close to Old Town, but easy enough to get to since Sunday traffic is light.
Our favorite Mexican restaurant for dinner is Monroe's. We usually go to the one on Osuna, NE, but if you're staying in Old Town, you'll be far closer to the one at 1520 Lomas Blvd., NW. 505-242-1111.
If you're thinking about a picnic, keep in mind it's still very warm here midday (at least in the high 80s if not mid 90s) so unless you are lucky enough to find a table under a tree providing shade it's kinda' uncomfortable eating outside for lunch, in my opinion.
Hope my input helps, and hope that you have a wonderful trip.
Thanks for the suggestions everyone. We enjoyed our (too brief) stay in Albuquerque and had some really good meals. Our flight in was delayed, so we drove directly from the airport to Mary& Tito's. They were great about letting us sample the chile sauces before we ordered and telling us about the cuisine. Really liked the sopapilla with carne adovada. The next morning we had a reservation for a hot air balloon ride (AMAZING!), so we wound up just grabbing some coffee and pastries at the Starbucks located near the condo we rented. A wasted opportunity perhaps, but we needed something at 6 am.
We had lunch at Zacateca Tacos. . .LOVED!!! The taco plates come with 4, and our server let us know that we could pick two different types of tacos (it didn't say this on the menu). My husband and I each got two each of two different kinds of tacos and then shared, so we tried: the seared rock cod, puerco al pastor, cochinita de Pibil, and carne asada. The cod and puerco were our favorites. Considering that the neighborhood looked fairly trendy, we thought the prices were very reasonable for the amount of food.
Because we live in a culinary wasteland for both Latin and Asian cuisines, we decided to try Huong Thao for dinner. Driving up to the dumpy strip mall reminded me of going to Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas. Anyway, I don't know a lot about Vietnamese food, but we thought this was very tasty. Our favorite thing was the mung bean crepe. Also very reasonable prices.
We needed a relatively early breakfast before leaving town to go to Tent Rocks, so stopped at Slate Street. I thought the huevos rancheros were a little disappointing, but my husband was happy with the green eggs and ham and my son liked his breakfast burrito. The star of the breakfast was the bacon, which was very well done.
Thanks to all for their suggestions and help making the most of our short stay in Albuquerque! I hope our travels bring us back this way again.