In celebration of a family wedding, my mom and my husband and I recently traveled to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Not one to miss a chance to check out the current local food scene, I organized a few special stops and we came across several more notable finds over the long weekend. If you’re headed to New Mexico any time soon, here are a few places and things we loved.
Finding this great hole-in-the-wall next to a laundromat was based solely on its proximity to Gruet Winery as we needed to have full bellies for our afternoon tasting and my mother requested Mexican food. Papa Nacho’s delivered in spades. New Mexican food lands somewhere between Mexican and Tex Mex—thankfully with a lot more cheese and a side of shredded iceberg lettuce and diced tomato. The green chile beef enchiladas were comfort food at their finest alongside fresh chips and salsa. We loved chatting about the art museum posters that surrounded us on the walls while we dined and our servers were the kindest ladies who checked in on us regularly and set us up with ice teas to go on our way out.
It wouldn’t be a vacation without some bubbles and Gruet has long been one of my American favorites. Knowing we would be visiting Albuquerque, I flew my mother and I in a half day early to ensure we had time to taste. Gruet is produced in true methode Champenoise style with French winemaking equipment and the expertise passed down from founder Gilbert Gruet who began making champagne in the 1950s in France. Now under the direction of Gilbert’s son and daughter and a third-generation son, Gruet has gained fast acclaim from its first release in 1989 to being named a Top 100 wine in the world in 2011 by Wine Spectator for the NV Blanc de Noirs. Although Utah has a solid selection of Gruet, we sampled vintage options and also another line, Sauvage, which won me over handily with the 2011 100% Chardonnay sparkling option. An interesting tidbit: the American Gruet label features Doberman Pinscher dogs on the crest while the original French label (Gruet et Fils winery in Bethon, France) highlights lions. The dogs represent another of the family’s loves—raising and training Dobermans.
Campo at Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm
We ventured here on the suggestion of a former restaurant owner in Salt Lake. One-time chef at The Metropolitan, Jonathan Perno, is now the executive chef at Campo so I booked reservations without delay. Situated in the middle of the idyllic Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm next to a small deli and store selling handmade lavender products from the fields of lavender that front the property, the restaurant itself was packed tight and didn’t allow for relaxing or lingering over dinner. Yet the view of the surrounding inn, with three styles of guest rooms and suites, and guineafowl roaming the grounds made for a charming setting. Campo highlights field-to-fork dining and bills its menu as Rio Grande River Valley cuisine, highlighted by several moles, pork, chicken and lamb cooked with fire. We found the smoked trout with bone marrow toast and pickled turnip and the crispy artichoke with toasted Chimayo chile outstanding successes. The seasonal charred vegetables were carrots and sweet potatoes, while the cracked new potatoes were just that—reflecting the short supply of produce offered up from the farm this time of year. Overall, the vibe of Campo seemed overly manufactured without much gastronomic reward yet the grounds of Los Poblanos were worth visiting for the atmosphere (and moonrise) alone.
Back Street Grill
Located in Old Town in Albuquerque, this unassumingly named restaurant served up the very best meal we ate in the state. From drinks to dinner, each was artfully presented with spot-on flavors that left all three of us surprised and satiated. We started our meal at Back Street Grill with the prickly pear margarita in celebration of Easter Sunday. An order of three tacos filled with plump, tequila lime marinated shrimp were topped with pineapple pico, cotija cheese, red chile roasted pine nuts and a fresh tomatillo salsa verde. The grilled Cali cheese steak sandwich was filled with seasoned sirloin, melted menonita cheese and roasted poblano peppers plus pico de gallo. A side of roasted poblano au jus added just the right kick to this hearty offering. I give full credit to Yelp on this find. It was highly rated and didn’t disappoint.
Christmas in New Mexico
Red, green or Christmas? This is not a holiday, this is in fact a food order. It means both red and green chile sauces on your enchilada, tamale, burrito or other dish. The option is open to almost every meal as the chile pepper is ubiquitous in New Mexico—even garnering the title of official state vegetable in the Land of Enchantment.