The Best Restaurants in Albuquerque are a travel destination in their own right
As a younger man, I would make an annual trek to Paris, France expressly for the opportunity to travel on my stomach. Paris reveres the craft of good cooking, and for that reason, I loved Paris. If you avoided the tourist traps, you could stumble upon tiny family-owned shops and cafes where pride in the craft of good cooking with locally-sourced ingredients is a fiercely held tradition. Albuquerque, New Mexico is the one American city that comes closest, in my opinion to the culinary experiences I enjoyed in Paris.
Albuquerque loves the craft of cooking. And the best restaurants in Albuquerque are often found in modest sand-colored buildings with hand painted signs and time-worn seating. Its best cooks can do wonders with inexpensive local ingredients and seasonings, and offer modestly priced meals that are world-class dining experiences. This is “good and cheap” regional cooking at its best.
I was drawn to Albuquerque from my very first visit largely by the food, and the enthusiasm the locals have for their food. Green chile, red chile, posole, sopapillas… when the locals talk about their food they do so with a passion reminiscent of my best memories of Paris. Whether I dined in the homes of friends or in restaurants recommended by locals, there is a palpable pride in the craft of good cooking that makes dining in Albuquerque so memorable. The food stands on its own, and does not need to be embellished by the expensive accoutrements of “fine dining.”
How to travel on your stomach in Albuquerque
Traveling on your stomach in Albuquerque is a simple process. Eat where the locals eat, eat what the locals eat. The maid that cleans your hotel room will probably give you a better recommendation on where to dine than the concierge at your hotel front desk. The concierge will likely recommend the high priced, high-style restaurants that all tourists are sent to. That may not be a bad thing. However, the maid knows the inexpensive local eateries where the locals go for a good food. It will be a richer, more authentic dining experience (and most likely a bargain as well).
Eating New Mexican cuisine for the first time is in some ways like learning a new language. Some things may become quickly familiar and easy to appreciate, others may not. There are elements of New Mexican cooking that may seem strange to the untrained palette. Don’t pass judgement on your first tasting. Become more familiar with the range and context of New Mexican food before forming an opinion. Your love for New Mexican food is certain to deepen and mature.
The best food in Albuquerque is found in modest, unassuming buildings that often don’t give a clue about the extraordinary dining pleasures found within. Don’t pass them by! This is where Albuquerque’s most passionate regional cooking is done, and done well. The unassuming building that houses Mary & Tito’s Cafe cannot tell you about the legendary carne adovada and New Mexico Wedding cake served here. The exterior of Duran Central Pharmacy in Old Town provides no clue to the authentic and inspiring New Mexican cuisine served at its lunch counter. These hidden gems, and others like them are the true standard-bearers for the best food Albuquerque has to offer. Hopefully, my restaurant listings here can help you to discover more of these culinary jewels.