Been in Albuquerque for a few days and thought I would share a few food notes. There's a lot of noise about Los Cuates and the place has won a fair number of awards. We went there yesterday and frankly I don't see the appeal unless you have a family of 12 and want to take them to dinner for less than a C note without a bunch of happy meals. It's basically that Americanized kind of "mexican" food where there are 50 items on the menu but all are some combination of hot tomato gravy, some form of tortilla, meat and cheese. Nothing special. But if you are desparately short on change, by all means.
Giving up on recommendations we went to La Cantina (I think that was the name) in Old Town facing the square. We didn't expect much, but even then we were disappointed. I actually watched my frozen drink sit at the bar melting while we waited more than 15 minutes for a glass of water. The drink wasn't bad, but how hard is it to mix pinapple juice, coconut milk and cheap tequila? After we heard our neighboring table complain AND the tepid soup arrived with clearly distressed brocoli, we bolted.
The story has a happy ending, though. The Indian Pueblo Cultural center has a charming little restaurant where the food is made fresh from scratch with a substantial amount of pride. The green chili stew was firey with a nice assortment of fresh potatos (clean and unpeeled), chilis and corn. My spouse was relieved with a Sandia salad, served with raw zucchini and sunflower seeds. I regret not trying the fry bread because it sure looked good as it landed on other tables.
I haven't been to Los Cuates for a few months, but I I don't know what you mean by "Americanized" version of "Mexican" food with "hot tomato gravy." Perhaps they've changed A LOT since I was there last, but the last time I was there they were still serving New Mexican cuisine (not Mexican) and I've never had "hot tomato gravy" there. Los Cuates is not what it used to be and is not the best New Mexican food served in ABQ, but it was never what you describe. Guess I'll have to check again.
For New Mexican, try El Patio on Harvard, just south of Central. It's very good, well priced, but bring cash. That's all they take. The Frontier is another good low cost choice for New Mexican, at Cornell and Central, I think. And don't forget Sadie's on North 4th. Not as low cost, though.
re: desert rat
Two additions to the pile (one heavily 'hounded, one not):
Sadie's on 4th near Osuna. Don't even attempt this one between 6 and 8pm on weekend nights - the wait is usually well over an hour. Local favorite, family friendly, can be noisy.
GARDUNO'S. Yes, I still like this place. If you can deal with mariachis and loud tourists, they still can make good New Mexican, but its neither a bargain nor a rip-off. Portions are huge, of course. I often go to get one very specific dish - Chile Rojo. A pho-sized bowl of red chile enhanced with strips of fajita steak, and garnished with onions, cilantro, corn chips, and sour cream. Fantastic chile fix for $9. Some say the North Valley location is the best (on Rio Grande), but I haven't compared enough to offer an opinion on that. It was very good, however, and not as touristy as the one by the mall on Louisiana.
"Hot tomato gravy" - sorry, partner, but I have to question your ability to review based on that comment.
Which Los Cuates did you visit (Lomas N, Lomas S, or Menaul)?
WOW is all I an say about your Los Cuates experience. If your screen name says anything about the part of the country you're from, that would explain your lack of knowledge about New Mexican cuisine. I have to agree with erich and desert rat about "hot tomato gravy"....never heard of it. Are you SURE you went to Los Cuates?
I'm pretty sure that your idea of Mexican food would either be Chi-Chi's or taco bell.
Sorry you didn't enjoy one of the best places around...in my opinion. When you go to a New Mexican restaurant and it's full of vato's....I'm pretty sure the food is gonna be good. The restaurant used to be a dive, across the street from the Lomas location, years ago..it's just gotton so much attention,they had to expand. They can't possibly suck and still pack 'em in nightly.
Sorry, just venting.
I lived in ABQ for about 10 years and have been to all these places many times. I used to go to Los Cuates (both the south and 'new north' locations) a lot for lunch with a friend who had to get a stuffed sopapilla fix and had to get it there. I never really liked the food there. I would rate it so-so. Not someplace I'd take a valued visitor, but I could have worse. I never understood why it's so highly regarded on this forum.
I've only been to El Patio once and also thought it was so -so, but that was probably like 12 years ago (I moved in the late 90s).
When I go back to vistit, I always go to Sadie's for my NM fix. I used to alternate with Garcia's for breakfast, Garduno's (posole bowl), El Pinto but now I just stick with Sadie's.
I have never found better salsa, margaritas and sopapillas (in ABQ) than at Sadie's. I always get the chile relleno or tamales, all papitas.
I generally have loved Los Cuates, but I have to say, the last couple of meals I've had there were not as good.
At the old one, the cheese inside my enchilada was not even melted; additionally, the service was kind of rude (which was very surprising). At the "new" one, the chile was bland. Maybe Clevelander hit Los Cuates on a bland day, so the chile seemed like gravy?
I wouldn't be too hard on Clevelander--he/she really enjoyed the food at the Pueblo Cultural Center Restaurant, so I would say that shows excellent taste!
The new one up on Menaul was not very good. I went with a large group and most of us were not impressed. The chile was "gringoized" for the Heights crowd (and I do mean crowd) and it had no flavor.
Parking was inadequate and one of our group got towed for parking in the next lot over. But the worst was a little sleaze the waitress pulled. She was a very seasoned pro and took oreders in no time flat. She then incidently went around to each of us and asked" Would you prefer guac or sour cream on your enchilada?"etc. (as if it came with)
When we got the bill, there was a surchrge of almost 40 dollars for guac and sour cream. Not one of the twenty of us will return.
Well, only been here a month, just moved from Las Vegas, NV. I love Authentic Mexican food and had to adjust to this New Mexican Cuisine. We did go to several New Mexican restaurants since arriving and have enjoyed them, and I have even incorporated the roasted NM chilis in my home cooking. We love hot so we fit right in there. I buy the extra hot! Love em! But, trying to find a Vietnamese Rest. on Sunday (found they were closed) and opted for Mexican Cuisine instead. I didn't feel like driving around forever and I was only looking for take out. I was in Rio Rancho and I saw this drive thru Mexican place Frederrico's, bought two plates. My husband isn't the biggest fan of Mexican or New Mexican no matter how you slice it, but I love Mexican so I got it. To our surprise the food was really good. My husband told me the next day at dinner, he took his left over burrito to work for lunch that day, and told me that the beef burrito I got him was the best burrito he has ever had! He said he even told everyone at work too. I loved my fish tacos and the beans were made fresh, and it was really good. I will go back for casual take out again. I have been to Chili's, but I eat their Black Bean Vegi Hamburger, I don't consider that Mexican food, just vegetarian fare. I like real authentic Mexican food. One New Mexican rest. we went to in Santa Fe called The Shed was good, I appreciate the history of the food and it was good, but everything was covered and baked in the chili sauce and that was a little much for me. One time to try was nice but I couldn't eat that all the time, but I did feel like I was eating over the campfire in the old cowboys days and that was cool. I'm a history buff so I can appreciate almost anything once.
Federico's is an AZ-based Mexican-Mexican food fast food chain. I certainly enjoy their Juan Tabo store in Albuquerque. Good value, decent quality, clean, and nice folks. I recommend them.
potbelliedkiln, if you're looking for nice Mexican in ABQ, you might try Ruben's (SE part of the intersection of Candelaria and Eubank) - I've had really wonderful tacos there, and Ruben is a great guy. El Taco Tote, the Cd. Juarez chain, is located at around Central and Washington. El Norteño on Zuni can be great as well.
I agree with your assessment of The Shed in Santa Fe - you might try their less-touristy sister restaurant, La Choza (near (NE of) the intersection of Cerrillos and St. Francis in SF) next time.