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New Restaurant Report
Thursday, 07 April 2011
ImageAlbuquerque’s ever-burgeoning dining scene witnessed many new additions and relocations over the past 12 months, affording local diners a variety of fresh options — from seafood to tacos, American standards to exotic Asian fare. Local iQ’s annual New Restaurant Report offers readers a few tasty dining recommendations for places you might not have heard of. It’s not a complete list, but it’s a good one. Enjoy.
5 Star Burgers
5901 Wyoming NE, 505.821.1909
Hours: Sun.-Thu., 11a-9p; Fri.-Sat., 11a-10p

If they haven’t already done so, local burger fans will rejoice upon first tasting any burger in the 5 Star Burger lineup. This clean, modern and bustling restaurant — tucked into Northtowne Plaza next to Borders and Whole Foods — creates delectable handcrafted burgers that are wholly unique and made from all natural beef from Harris Ranch. Among the burger roster is the 5 Star Burger (gorgonzola cheese and bacon), the melt-in-your-mouth Bison Burger and the Taos Burger (topped with crispy breaded green chile). Even the veggie burger rocks, which says a lot coming from this carnivorous writer. Add a local craft beer to the mix, and a basket of sweet potato fries and you have found your new burger haven. Note 1: Gluten-free buns are always an option here, as is a delicious lineup of salads. Note 2: Happy hour prices are ridiculously low. —KH

Photos by Wes Naman
Al’s Big Dipper

411 Central NW, 505.314.1118
Hours: 11a-5:30p, Mon.-Thu.; 11a-7p, Fri.

Young owners Allen Chen and Cassidy Nine learned the restaurant trade from Chen’s mother, the owner and operator of Chen’s Chinese Restaurant for the past 30 years. They’ve transformed the former Downtown Relish location into a hip, well-decorated hotspot, highlighted by a Schwinn bicycle hanging from the ceiling and framed mixer blades on the wall. Affordable sandwich specials include the 505 Lunch Deal of grilled cheese on Fano Bakery bread with a cup of soup, all for $5.05 every day. Soups range from tomato to tortellini, and repeat customers rave about Randy’s Rant, a salami, fontina, parmesan and arugula sandwich served warm on a croissant. —CO

Asian Grill
5303 Gibson SE, 505.265.4702
Hours: 11a-8:30p, Mon.-Fri.; 11a-7p, Sat.-Sun.

Asian Grill, situated in a strip mall in the International District, isn’t long on ambience, but who cares when the food is fantastic? The big, open restaurant painted in Easter-egg colors features cuisines of Vietnam, China, Korea, Thailand and Singapore. A highlight is the Malay Street Skewers — tender, grilled chicken bits (that aren’t actually served on a skewer) paired with a sweet and spicy dipping sauce. Another standout, a large bowl of vermicelli with grilled prawns and pork, is enough for two meals. Other options abound, and include rice, stir fry noodles, pho and phuket dishes with tasty meat and fish tossed in. Asian Grill is a welcome addition to Albuquerque’s growing Asian dining scene. —CO

Bailey’s on the Beach
2929 Monte Vista NE, 505.717.2880
In a purely conceptual sense, a restaurant serving “beach food” in the high desert of New Mexico makes about as much sense as a high-priced French bistro setting up shop in Paris, Texas. Yet, despite this city’s complete lack of oceans, waves or sand castles, a “beachside” eatery like Bailey’s on the Beach makes so much sense. The genius at work here, as owner Roy Solomon is well aware, is that most local diners have little idea what beach food is. Here is their introduction.

Serving a well-rounded variety of simply prepared, simply presented entrees, Bailey’s (named after Solomon’s daughter) has captured the attention of local diners who would rather kick off their slip-on checkerboard Vans than sip cosmopolitans at a crowded bar. The fact that Solomon has happened upon the world’s best queso recipe, which complements just about anything on the menu, doesn’t hurt. I highly suggest a Chile Philly paired with a Happy Camper IPA and a Big Little Dog. You can thank me later. —KH

ImageBricklight Dive

115 Harvard SE, Suite 9, 505.232.7000
Hours: 11a-11p, Mon.-Fri.; 12p-12a, Sat.-Sun.

Your first impression of Bricklight Dive is of the fun and relaxing atmosphere: a modern jukebox on one side of the room, a chalkboard full of announcements on the other. It’s clear that this new Italian bistro captures the spirit of the UNM neighborhood. And for a small eatery, Bricklight Dive’s menu affords a good deal of variation, from individual pizzas to salads to sandwiches, all priced at $5 or $6. Highlights include a choice of three bruschettas (the green chile, feta and grilled chicken is a standout) and a vegetarian lasagna sandwich that features a slew of fresh vegetables packed between warm ciabatta bread. Add a full lineup of New Mexico beers on tap, at $2.50 per 12-ounce draft, and you have your new Albuquerque hangout. —JD

ImageCommunity Cup
219 Central NW, 505.301.7763
Hours: 7:30a-3p, Mon.-Fri.
Boasting fresh, local and organic ingredients, Community Cup features a changing daily menu in a cozy downtown location. Sit outside under the rainbow umbrella for daily lunch specials such as the baked sausage and pepper sandwich, cajun salmon chowder and stuffed portobello mushroom with meatloaf. Owner Pelli O’Connell, with partner Kim Bond, is a professional gluten-free chef and can cater special-ordered fabulous desserts like berry-apple oatcake or three-berry custard tarts. The daily homemade pastries (not GF, but delicious) include cinnamon rolls, scones, coffee cake and more. The grab-and-go breakfast burritos, coffee drinks and smoothies are superb as well. —CO

CoolWater Fusion
2010 Wyoming NE, Suite B, 505.332.2665
Hours: 10a-2p, Sun.; 11a-2p, Mon.-Sat.; 4:30-8p, Mon.-Thu.; 4:30-9p, Fri.-Sat.

This sophisticated, contemporary fusion restaurant draws inspiration from the cuisines of Cuba, Mexico, America, England, Italy and France. The braised pork Cuban sandwich on homemade bread and the red chile braised pork appetizer served on fluffy, polenta-like corn cake are specialties of CoolWater’s chef, Jason Upshaw. When included on the daily specials menu, the tilapia fish tacos disappear during the early seating of lunch, but pan-roasted tilapia is a regular favorite on the dinner menu. Intimate and reasonably-priced, CoolWater offers a refreshing heights dining experience. —CO
ImageDesert Fish
4214 Central SE, 505.266.5544
In the last decade, contemporary American food has come a long way. Likewise, in the last thousand days, seafood in New Mexico has made far more inroads with local diners. This writer has had countless conversations with transplants from either coast who cringed at the thought of dining on so-called “fresh seafood” in the high desert. Um, hello? Has anyone heard of overnight delivery? In an age when a custom laptop can be shipped from China in a matter of hours, fresh tuna or halibut from the Pacific or Atlantic doesn’t seem all that astounding. Local diners willing to afford themselves a single visit to the awesomely named Desert Fish will be handsomely rewarded with a cozy, modern and astutely Northwestern “fish and shellfish joint” that is staffed by folks who understand that the recipe for a successful restaurant consists of one central ingredient: quality.

Most diners inherently crave crab and clams and shrimp and halibut and mussels, et al. Now that the city has Desert Fish, the smartest of diners will drive past the popular chain joints to take a seat here, where the sea finally shakes hands with high desert sand. —KH

ImageGuava Tree Cafe
216 Yale SE, 505.990.2599
Hours: 11a-7p, Mon.-Sat.
For all the Spanish spoken in Albuquerque, the opportunities for true Latin food that is not Mexican or New Mexican sometimes feel limited. But for those searching for the flavors of South America, Central America and the Carribean, Guava Tree Cafe is a delectable destination. The small, friendly, colorful cafe located near UNM is run by owners who met while living in Costa Rica. The menu features fresh Latin American food like arepas (corncake sandwiches filled with everything from slow-cooked pork to vegetables), traditional bread sandwiches like El Cuban and Pavochon (the latter made with Puerto Rican-style roasted chicken) and soups and salads, including ajiaco, a Colombian-style chicken, corn and potato chowder. Coffee and unique pastries and sweets are also on the menu. —ME

ImageJo’s Place
6100-B 4th NW, 505.341.4500
Hours: 8a-5p, Mon.-Sun.
There are no obvious indications from the restaurant’s simple signage, dark green patio and the café-esque interior that Jo’s Place is all about contemporary Mexican food. But once you step up to the counter and get acquainted with the menu, you quickly realize you have walked into a little slice of heaven. Front and center are a trio of delicious burgers you won’t find elsewhere in Albuquerque: the mole pueblo burger with jack cheese, the poblano burger with jack cheese and the Huitlacoche Mexican mushroom burger — all adorned with a fresh slice of chile, of course. The menu also features salads, soups, desserts and a handful of breakfast items, including espresso. The delicious combination of flavors at Jo’s Place, orchestrated by chef Dennis Apodaca, will leave you with a full stomach and a new destination you’ll want to tell your friends about. —KS

ImageRoute 66 Malt Shop

3800 Central SE, 505.242.7866
Since Route 66 Malt Shop has been around for some time in its previous location near Old Town, it doesn’t actually qualify as a “new” restaurant. However, anyone who knows the history of the place will view the new location at Central and Solano, just east of Carlisle in Nob Hill, as not just new but brand-spanking new. Now rightfully housed in a neon-lined building, 66 Malt Shop is an international haven for nostalgia junkies and ’50s memorabilia hounds looking for an authentic Route 66 experience. Luckily, the restaurant’s owners, Diane Avila and Eric Szeman, pay as much attention to the menu as they do the atmosphere.

66 Malt Shop’s selection of mid-century American fare standards like burgers and dogs and sandwiches is just as impressive as its award-winning homemade root beer. This “66” (not to be confused with Albuquerque’s equally nostalgic 66 Diner just down the road) will undoubtedly become an Albuquerque landmark sure to draw international acclaim. That is, until it defects from, or alters in any way, their mustard-only-no-cheese pastrami sandwich. —KH

3619 Copper NE, 505.265.9330
Hours: 11a-9:30p, Mon.-Thu.; 11a-10p, Fri.-Sat.; 5-9p, Sun.

Flavorful and healthy dishes abound at this homey, comfortable Nob Hill restaurant. Try the savory thom kha gai coconut soup, rich with traditional Thai ingredients, and ask to include some fresh, meaty shrimp. The Salathai homemade spicy dipping sauces are hot stuff, layered with subtle vinegar, fish sauce and sugary tastes — a spicy, delicious full-body rush to enhance your meal. Salathai joins a list of long-standing Thai favorites in Albuquerque offering familiar options with room for individualization. —CO

ImageSerafin’s Chile Hut
3718 Central SE, 505.266.0029
Hours: 10a-9:30p daily

If you want salsa with a bite or some of the best sopaipillas in Albuquerque, stop at Serafin’s Chile Hut on famed Route 66 in Nob Hill. This New Mexican restaurant has flavorsome food and a welcoming and friendly staff. The chile rellenos, carne adovada and green chile cheeseburgers are a few of the customer favorites, but each and every dish packs a punch of spicy New Mexican flavor. The straw ceiling fans and chile ristras create the perfect New Mexican “hut” atmosphere and the Route 66-themed drinks and hot sauces add a touch of timelessness to the restaurant. Dine inside or grab a Dos Equis and lime wedges and relax underneath an umbrella on Serafin’s chile hut patio. —LL

ImageStreetfood Asia
3422 Central SE, 505.260.0088
Hours: 11a-9p, Sun.-Thu.; 11a-10p, Fri.-Sat.

Fresh ingredients cooked on the spot in delicious combinations and eaten informally: That’s the street-food tradition at Asian markets in cities like Saigon, Seoul, Bangkok, Beijing and Tokyo, and it’s also the concept behind the Nob Hill restaurant Streetfood Asia. Husband and wife owners Tai Tok and Paula Frahm have crafted an eclectic Asian menu featuring everything from wok-fried calamari, pho soup and spare ribs to barbecue pork-filled steamed buns and firecracker shrimp spring rolls. The combination of table and bar-style seating adds to an informal atmosphere in a handsomely remodeled former retail space that housed indie record shop Natural Sound. If the throngs of customers are any indication, Streetfood Asia is a hit. —ME

Tim’s Place
8050 Academy NE, 505.856.1005
Hours: 6:30a-2:30p, every day

Tim’s Place is not just a restaurant, it’s a restaurant with a heart-warming and inspirational story behind it. Suitably named, “The World’s Friendliest Restaurant” and owned by Tim Harris — a man born with Down’s syndrome who is living out his entrepreneurial dream of owning his own eatery — this place is a cheerful and pleasant home-away-from-home in which you can spend your morning or afternoon. Plates of the Happy Day Breakfast, Rangoon Artichoke Wontons or the Grilled Cheese Gone Wild are given extra flavor by the welcoming employees and hug-o-meter hanging on the wall. If you want to begin the day with a smile on your face, Tim’s is the place to be. —LL

ImageTao’s Chinese Bistro
3301 Southern, rio rancho, 505.962.0168
Hours: 11a-9p, Mon.-Thu.; 11a-10p, Fri.-Sat.; 3-9p, Sun.

The word “tao” is translated as “way” or “route,” and Tao’s Chinese Bistro is the assured path to a tasty cuisine and a peaceful feng shui environment. This modern and classy restaurant serves traditional dishes like sweet and sour chicken and Mongolian beef, but the brilliant and unique flavors win out over the typical Chinese dishes. This may be because Chef Johnny Lee focuses whole-heartedly on the freshness of his ingredients and the perfect balance of his dishes. Tao’s has a diverse menu that makes it difficult to choose just one meal, but no matter which dish you try, the satisfied sound of “mmmm” will most likely be heard from all around the table. —LL

ImageTorino’s at Home
7600 Jefferson NE, 505.797.4491
Hours: 6:30a-3:30p, Mon.-Fri.

Torino, Italy, is known for its melt-in-your-mouth chocolate and al-dente pasta, among many other culinary delights. Husband and wife Maxime and Daniela Bouneou have succeeded in bringing the traditional delicacies of their Italian culture to Albuquerque. Each plate is its very own masterpiece — beautifully crafted with a gourmet flavor — with handmade pastas and some of the best tiramisu in the city. The smell of coffee beans drifts from the modest café, where espresso and sweet treats are served. Organic and local fruits and veggies are used in the kitchen, along with gorgonzola, mozzarella, fontina and ricotta cheeses imported directly from Italy. Go back regularly to try all of the dishes, especially the poached pear in hazelnut chocolate sauce and mascarpone vanilla ice cream. Very traditional. Very homey. Very Italian grandmother-esque. —LL

Waco’s Tacos
317 Central NW, 505.848.TACO (8226)
Hours: 11a-9p, Sun.-Thu.; 11a-10p, Fri.-Sat.
Have ever asked yourself, “Where’s a taco cart when you need one?” Waco’s Tacos (pronounced ‘wah-cohz’), located in the former Downtown Albuquerque space that housed the fleeting Daily Fix, provides an answer (of sorts). It’s not a cart, per se, but it is all about the taco. The concept here is as about as simple as it gets: pick a tortilla (flour or crunchy or soft corn); pick a filling (bean, veggie, steak or chicken) and pick a slew of toppings. This convenient, not quite walkup joint makes Mexican-style food that, while not quite authentic, is tasty, filling and well worth the small price tag. —KH
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