Forty years ago, my favorite was Mexican Kitchen on North 4th for stuffed sopaipillas. It was a tiny, one room building and the whole family worked there. Often got waited on by a 12 year old girl. The best food! And Sadie's in the bowling alley which was always worth the wait for memorable, hot red chile.
Mexican Kitchen is gone and Sadie's is a huge, soulless place with bland, microwaved enchilada plates that have nothing in common with what they once were. Mary and Tito's uses store bought flour tortillas and doesn't have beer. Other places are occasionally good (Casa Benavidez) but inconsistent. Had hopes for El Bruno's (since I love the place in Cuba), but can't do $12 for a tiny plate of enchiladas and not even a tortilla or sopaipilla on the side.
Café Azul on 12th and Mountain was hopeful, but after bad service, cold food and high prices, we couldn't do it again. Tried twice.
I don't think I'm picky, here. It shouldn't be hard to find reliable, good New Mexican food in Albuquerque! I can cook it myself, but it's nice to go out. Back to the drawing board, awaiting recommendations again.
We live in Los Lunas, where our favorite for traditional New Mexico food is Teofilo's, so we don't eat New Mexican much in Albuquerque. But we've had really good meals at Barelas Coffee House of Fourth St. near the HNCC and Padilla's on Girard just south of Indian School.
Opinions on good New Mexican food are just about as varied as opinions on good pizza! You probably won't have much luck fining hot red (or green) chile at any NM restaurant, except by happy chance. Such a tough one... I'm sure you've tried all my fave haunts, but here's my list of a few of my favorites.
1. Los Cuates. Another little restaurant that got big. Not as consistently good as they used to be, but we still go fairly often.
2. Duran's Station (on Menaul near Washington). A second location of the lunch counter at Duran's Pharmacy, to which I've never been. A little pricey, but pretty good. Probably my fave red chile.
3. Mary & Tito's on 4th. Runner up for my fave red.
4. Perea's Tijuana Bar in Corrales. If you go just for the atmosphere, you'll stay for the food. Cozy casa with a nice woodburning fireplace.
It is a sad state of affairs.
I often find that The Range Café has more authentic New Mexican dishes than the chains (such as Garcia's and Sadie's). (The Plaza Café in Santa Fe similarly can outdo the claimants.)
What pains me most is the lack of variety in cuisine in general in ABQ. Yanni's son took over the empty Garduño's on Montgomery just east of Juan Tabo ... and we were expecting something great. What did he do? He opened El Patron with some of the worst New Mexican food around ... and it's always mobbed.
Perhaps there's a hint there - people are either less demanding or clueless.
In general, it's best to avoid the mega-restaurants and tourist haunts such as El Pinto, Garduno's, or Sadie's. (At least Sadie's still makes recognizably New Mexican food and chile with a bit of heat). El Patron and their tasteless chile seem to be unashamedly focusing on the same market. Garcia's was once pretty reliable, but they've dumbed their chile down to the point of flavorlessness which highlights the mediocre quality of the food sitting under that red or green. At least they still make good, thick New Mexico-style tortillas.
Hmmmm....really? Let's see. In Albq. one can get American (in that category I lump all steakhouses, barbecue, generic sandwiches, etc.), Native American, Greek, Italian, French, Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai, Mexican, New Mexican, Kenyan, Middle Eastern, farm-to-table, Cuban, Cajun, South American, Japanese, Indian, Afghani, German (if Dagmar's is still open), Jewish. I'd say that ain't bad for a city of 500,000 people.
Now, whether the restaurants measure up to your exacting and precise standards of what you imagine is the correct execution of any of those cuisines is another story. But no variety? Really?
I agree - for a fairly small, fairly isolated city we do alright.
I just saw another East African joint today, this one a food truck. Sounds like they emphasize spicier coastal cuisine:
OBTS mentioned South American: 3 Peruvian places have opened here in the last couple years. None features a full Peruvian menu and 2 of 3 focus on pollos asados, but each is Peruvian-owned and highlights a fair selection of regional delicacies.
There's also a Columbian chicken place (with a full Columbian menu) in the SE Heights, and a more generalized Central American/Colombian place just south of UNM. Oh, and a wonderful Argentinian food truck. Another, presumably more upscale Argentinian place will open in the old La Provence space in a few months.
At least 2-3 of the local Thai places are Laotian-owned (no stretch there, they're closely related ethnic and linguistic groups and Laos was once part of Thailand) and serve Lao food as well as Thai specialities.
There's a lot more, too...chicken and waffles? Anything else you could think of and waffles? Native American? To my thinking we have our share of unique gems (like the last 2 I listed), plus a fair-to-good cross-section of other cuisines that probably outstrips most cities of a similar size or location. We're missing a few things, sure (Ethiopian? Please?) but dining options in El Paso or Colorado Springs or perhaps even Tucson are not nearly as varied...
I second El Modelo; delicious and authentic. El Paisa does Mexican-style Mexican food, though, not New Mexican (the tacos de pastor, horchata, and tomatillo salsa should all be tip-offs).
As far as other suggestions go, I still like Mary & Tito's, Barelas Coffee House and Cocina Azul (It's nice to see fideos and calabacitas on a menu, and the service recently seems to have improved significantly after we complained to the management a while back). El Patio can also be hit-or-miss service-wise but still has very tasty chile, and beer. Cecilia's - off of Silver downtown - has HOT chile amid a generally tasty range of NM food. The El Camino Dining Room on north 4th has nice red. Tia Betty Blue's on San Mateo north of Gibson is non-traditional, but feature a lot of the typical NM favorites including atole, *great* carne adovada, and tasty red. Pueblo Harvest at the Pueblo Cultural Center somewhat aspires to be"fine dining", but also do great Pueblo-style versions of several New Mexico classics like green chile stew, posole, enchiladas, and carne adovada.
Well, if your standard is that the place must serve tortillas made on the premises, then I would suggest La Mexicana on Coal between 5th and 4th. Or Duran's--I know their flour tortillas are made on premises but don't know about the corn tortillas. I will second the vote for El Modelo--they make their tortillas there, too. Always reliable. I like Mary & Tito's and don't stick my nose in the air over store-bought tortillas--hell, they probably buy them from one of the local joints I mentioned.
I recently discovered La Mexicana myself - NM-style despite the name and very tasty. Good suggestion!
Once again, thanks for your suggestions, Phil. Oh, and OBTS, I am so sorry you were apparently miffed at some perceived snobby tone of mine. I know how sensitive you can be! (Last time I was at Mary and Tito's, the flour tortillas were Bueno brand. Sorry, but in a town like Albuquerque, it's not too much to ask for more than that from a restaurant)
and yes, third for El Modelo, Barelas and Duran's Pharmacy. Looking for dinner places.