Albuquerque is my home. It’s the place I grew up, the place I know best and the place that I first got inspired about food. No matter where I am in the world, I’ve still spent the first 18 years of my life here and I will always be a Burqueno through thick and thin. New Mexico will always be the place that grounds me, that inspires me. As far as the food goes, I have eaten thousands of meals in the Duke City. That’s a ton. Nothing would be a more perfect send off to the city that raised me than my official top five list of Albuquerque restaurants. This was tough, took serious debate, yet I present to you the bjfoodblog official list. The restaurants are in no specific order so feel free to try them all equally after reading this. Also if you haven’t already, make sure to check out my last top five list for Eugene here.
Taj Mahal Cuisine of India
Altura Shopping Center, 1430 Carlisle Blvd NE, Albuquerque, NM 87110
The Taj Mahal was a staple of my childhood. It is the closest restaurant to my house which by default bumps it up on the list, yet their food is outstanding. The Taj Mahal was the first restaurant to inspire my taste for ethnic cuisine. It may have even been the spot where I became a foodie. Imagine a six-year-old kid having dreams of Saag Paneer and Chicken Makhani, being completely absorbed by the flavors, the smells, the experience that is Indian cuisine. I liked the process of the restaurant, the progression from one flavor to the next, from one flavor explosion to the last, leaving your stomach bursting at the seams and your taste buds on cloud nine. The Taj Mahal was the place for me that made me realize how important food was. I can’t think of one family member or friend that hasn’t partaken in the ultimate Indian food experience with me.
The Taj Mahal has become my definition of Indian food, the gold standard that I compare all other Indian restaurants in the world to. Even though it is a buffet during lunch hours, the food is incomprehensibly good, rich and diverse. With a northern Indian background, the Taj serves up classic dishes such as Tandoori Chicken, Cardamom Rice and various types of curries to satisfy your soul. They have righteous naan, crisp and warm. Even though all this goodness is conveniently seconds away from my house, I may have also found a top five dish of my life here, the Chicken Makhani.
Chicken Makhani is in a league all its own, a curry so bold I just don’t understand it. A velvety smooth tomato based curry that exudes decadence and richness. This, however, is not butter chicken, and I have rarely found anything like it in any other Indian restaurant I have been to, which makes it extremely special. It is the dish I look for upon my return, and can’t wait to get a bite of when I get back to the ABQ. The Taj Mahal is not to be missed and for 10 dollars at lunch, might be the best deal in the city.
2301 Carlisle Blvd NE, but many more locations all around ABQ and NM
I already know what you are thinking, why the hell did a fast food restaurant end up on my list if I won’t even eat fast food. Here’s the story. Blake’s was a facet of my upbringing. I can remember walking into the Carlisle location after I played my heart out on the little league field with my teammates. The interior almost hospital like, with fake red plastic seat coverings on white tables, in possibly the top to bottom whitest establishment I have ever walked in to. We would crowd around a large circular table in the corner of the diner and enjoy our good ol’ American style burgers and seasoned fries and maybe even a chocolate shake if our parents were feeling generous.
Blake’s was my introduction to Americana, to the diner and to quick cooking in a comfortable setting. It’s one of those places where even the ketchup tastes better than normal, ya know.
To be honest, I haven’t eaten a burger at Blake’s in a very long time, it is more of a faint memory at this point. Blake’s make the list because of their breakfast burritos which they started serving up hot off the griddle about six years ago. I can’t explain it. Their chili is alright, nothing special. Their tortillas are not homemade. They do cook, to order, every part of your burrito and lovingly roll it up, yet it doesn’t seem to be anything I couldn’t do at home. Although the components of the burrito are nothing out of the ordinary, the end product is something I have gone back for time and time again, possibly my favorite burrito out there. The #1 Red, bacon with red chili, stuffed to the brim with hash-browns, and cheese just can’t be beat seemingly by anything out there. Saturday mornings in my household just wouldn’t be the same without my family slamming down a hearty burrito with no regrets, followed by a slew of regrets just after finishing.
I think the best part about Blake’s is that you can only get it in New Mexico, which makes it even more special. It’s a cult classic that has defined the New Mexico fast food scene for years, telling the people of Burque, “If you are what you eat, than you are awesome”. Blake’s even made a guest appearance in Breaking Bad, so that’s cool too.
Vic’s Daily Cafe
Osuna Business Center, 3600 Osuna Rd NE #105, Albuquerque, NM 87109
Every time I go to Vic’s its like visiting family. The restaurant never changes. It’s the perfect little time capsule, especially for me not being here that often anymore. Upon entering, I get a smile from the owner at the cash register, a warm cup of coffee served up by a familiar face, and a breakfast dish so perfect it seems like it was made just for me.
Vic’s is a standard diner with a New Mexican flair. Sitting seemingly out-of-place on Osuna in the business area, Vic’s has been serving up hearty breakfast dishes to the people of Albuquerque for as long as I have been alive. My mother and father used to eat at Vic’s even before I was born, when it was called Andy’s and was up on the east-side of town by the first house I lived in. Vic’s is comforting and warm, and embodies that feeling when you enter your grandmother’s house. It is traditional in that sense as well, a board with the “pie of the day” when you walk in, a display case of homemade sweets and a cozy dining area filled to the brim with all walks of life.
Vic’s breakfast menu has all the classics but with a New Mexican twist. The kind of place you can get pancakes and chorizo and eggs if you were so inclined. The place also has the one dish that I also go completely off the health food wagon for, the dish that I will eat regardless of the calorie count. In all its glory, the Vaqueros stands as the most delicious breakfast dish of all time, the perfect plate of food.
Vaqueros is simple, a chicken fried steak sitting a top hash-browns and eggs. This is no ordinary chicken fried steak. It literally is the size of your head. To finish the dish off they skip the country gravy and opt for the chili of your choice, for me, always red. Coming hot out of the kitchen straight to your table, the Vaqueros is a flavor explosion. Spicy, salty, crispy, savory, it’s simply unrelenting. At Vic’s the second I sit down I enter a boxing ring as I size up my opponent. I duel the Vaqueros, going bite for bite until I just can’t take it anymore, my stomach begging me to tap out.
Vic’s is great and has a more than enough options for everyone, just don’t expect to leave hungry.
5500 San Mateo Blvd NE #101, Albuquerque, NM 87109
If I could only eat one cuisine for the rest of my life, it would be Thai. That lesson I learned the first time I sat down Siam cafe, the seemingly average Thai cafe up on San Mateo. When you enter you see what you expect, those travel pictures of the most beautiful parts of Thailand, a picture of the Thai king on the back wall, a Buddha covered in coins for luck. Seemingly nothing special, yet once you eat the food, you become a believer.
Siam Cafe has become my go to place in Albuquerque for Thai food. There menu is basic, with the Thai standards, yet their food is just delightful. This is the restaurant where I found another one of my favorite dishes, the silver noodle salad. The silver noodle salad is a woven tapestry of textures, flavors and spices which creates a flavor profile like none other. Sitting on a base of vermicelli noodles, the dish has ground pork and shrimp, a slew of fresh veggies, marinated mushrooms all topped off with a fish sauce based dressing. The dish is complex, marrying the highly acidic with the savory, the sour with the spicy. A bright and colorful dish that is satisfying to the soul.
This is the first place I tried Tom Kha, my favorite soup. A bold coconut broth spiked with lemongrass served in one of those Thai style metal bowls with an open flame heating the stock from within. Siam Cafe is also the place that got me hooked on Mango Sticky Rice, one of the only Thai desserts I have ever tried. Mango Sticky Rice is that perfect combination of sweetness. It’s the subtlety of the dish that is so important, using a sweet coconut sauce to contrast the bright flavors of the mango in just the perfect way.
Siam Cafe has been doing it right for years and I will keep going back as long as the doors are open.
2400 Central Ave SE, Albuquerque, NM 87106
If you have read to this point and thought to yourself that I was not going to include The Frontier on this list, think again. The Frontier may be the most important restaurant in Albuquerque. I have spent countless hours, countless nights sitting in those old wooden booths with my best friends. The Frontier defined my high school experience, becoming a home away from home. It was a meeting place, a spot to grub down and the place to cap off any evening, rehashing the best events of that night over house-made tortillas and warm salsa. I have eaten there so many times ordering has become second nature. My friends and I knowing exactly what to get, exactly how to get the best bang for your buck and the most food on your plate as possible.
My go to dish at The Frontier has to be the cheese enchilada plate topped with red chili, an ode to how good New Mexican food can be. A plate smothered in red chili, with Spanish style rice and the omnipresent New Mexican side salad. Just perfect.
A highlight at The Frontier also has to be their homemade sweet rolls. Basically a hot cinnamon bun but without the creamy glaze. Instead it is slathered in a hot buttery syrup that will give your heart palpitations just by looking at it. Definitely not healthy but dastardly good.
If you have been there and haven’t noticed, the Frontier has different rooms that capture the spirit of New Mexico. My personal favorite is the back room with hundreds of Indian rugs hung on the ceiling. Don’t forget to check out the John Wayne room and really soak in those good desert vibes along with your plate of carne adovada.
Thank you Frontier, never change.
Korean BBQ House and Sushi and Sake
Hiway House Motel, 3200 Central Ave SE, Albuquerque, NM 87106
I have had more birthdays here than anywhere else. Great sushi, great vibes and they have Korean food!
520 Central Ave. SE, Albuquerque, NM 87106
Awesome BBQ spot on Central. Great Collards and the BBQ chicken is definitely not to be missed.
Anatolia Turkish and Mediterranean Cafe
313 Central Ave NW, Albuquerque, NM 87102
I may be biased because I worked here but this place is awesome. They have a lunch special every day for $5.99, belly dancers on Saturday night and baklava that is to die for.