Ten years ago, Albuquerque didn’t have an identifiable food scene. Of course, there were restaurants and bars, but nothing that tied it together to make it an foodie destination. Today, however, the city has grown to be a place one can enjoy not only the iconic regional green chile, but also a food and drink community focused on going local, working together and creating artisanal epicurious experiences for patrons.
From craft breweries that work together to succeed to farm-to-fork restaurants to the country’s first bar dedicated to helping arts organizations, Albuquerque’s food and drink scene is focused on quality, community and respect. Here are some great picks.
Explore Albuquerque’s Craft Beer Scene
While Albuquerque wasn’t one of the pioneers of craft beer, they’ve recently caught up and are not only creating innovative craft beers, but are winning major awards at annual events like the World Beer Cup and the Great American Beer Festival. One of Albuquerque’s most impressive breweries is Marble Brewery, who in just five years has become the city’s second-largest brewery (the largest brewery is 25 years old).
It’s a local favorite, and no matter what time you pop in for a brew you can expect a packed bar as they offer consistently high-quality beers, local artwork on the walls, board games and indoor and outdoor seating. Il Vicino Brewery Canteen is another top choice for craft beer in Albuquerque, known for their IPAs and experimental style of beer making. For a fun experience sample their “Hop-Kwon-Do,” a sampling of five very hoppy beers you battle against each other to see which is the hoppiest. And at Nexus Brewery & Restaurant you can sample delicious soul food (get the chicken and waffles!) paired with craft ales, stouts and IPAs.
Drink To The Arts
Albuquerque is home to one of the world’s most unique bar concepts: ArtBar. The country’s first bar dedicated to helping arts organizations, ArtBar is a membership-based full service bar, gathering and performance spa in the downtown area. Membership is $30 for the year, although visitors to Albuquerque can enjoy the space by signing in as a guest of the staff.
While the drink menu consists of domestic and international wines, domestic beer and cider, and classic cocktails, food is supplied by local food trucks like The Supper Truck and The Boiler Monkey. Happy hour is daily from 4pm to 7pm with $1 off well drink, beer and wines by the glass, and events like Soul Brunch & Hair of the Downward Facing Dog Hangover Yoga on Sundays; food and drink pairings; live performances; film screenings; and poetry readings keep the space interesting.
Chefs making breakfast at Los Poblanos. Photo courtesy of Sergio Salvador Photo.
Enjoy Fresh Foods On A Working Farm
When you think of farm country, Albuquerque, New Mexico, probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind. The truth is, however, the city’s North Valley area has a vibrant farm community that allows visitors to tour working farms as well as sample their fresh foods. The most historic farm experience one can have in Albuquerque is staying at Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm. While in the 1800s the Armijo family used the land to grow corn, wheat, alfalfa and wine grapes, Ruth and Albert Simms acquired the ranch house in 1932 when it became a model experimental farm, which it still is today.
For the full experience, stay in one of their Farm Suites housed in historic 1930s dairy buildings with pitched tin roofs, white stuccoed walls and garden views; tour their organic gardens and lavender fields; partake in a cooking, gardening or farming class; peruse their artisanal farm shop with its local treats and lavender body products. Both guests and non-guests (reservation only) can sample their Rio Grande Valley Cuisine, which blends French cooking techniques like braising, roasting and confit with the use of organic, local ingredients sourced onsite and within 200 miles (322 kilometers).
Other farm experiences in Albuquerque include touring the chile fields and picking your own chile — a regional staple in New Mexico — at Wagner’s Farmland Experience; cycling to Old Town Farm for coffee, conversation and farm-fresh lunches for their Bike-In Coffee event on Saturdays and Sundays from 8am to 2pm; and perusing the many local grower’s markets for fresh produce and local specialties.
Tour Local Wineries By Bike
Did you know New Mexico has the oldest wine region in the United States, beginning in the 1600s when the Spaniards needed wine for communion? Today, their winemaking tradition lives on through a number of boutique wineries and vineyards. You can choose to tour the vineyard-filled North Valley and surrounding areas in a self-guided fashion or take a cycling wine tour with Routes Rentals & Tours, which also includes stops at the historic Old Town, Rio Grande Nature Center State Park, Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm.
There are many worthwhile wineries in and around Albuquerque, and you could easily spend days wine tasting. Visit Gruet Winery (8400 Pan American Freeway) — New Mexico’s first winery to go national — known for their sparkling wines reminiscent of French Champagne. Casa Rondeña Winery (733 Chavez Road NW) is another great wine stop, housed on a grand estate blending classic European and Middle Eastern architecture and offering small-batch fruit forward wines that pair well with New Mexico’s notoriously spicy dishes. And at Anderson Valley Vineyards (4920 Rio Grande Boulevard), you can sip delicious
Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon while enjoying views of the Sandia Mountains.
Jambalaya and pulled pork from Pig Out food truck.
Dine On Gourmet Food Truck Fare
While food trucks aren’t new to Albuquerque, the city is starting to see more organized events centering around these mobile restaurants. For locals, a popular food truck experience is heading to the Talin Market on Wednesdays from 10am to 6pm and Saturdays from 3:30pm to 6:30pm on the corner of Marble and San Pedro NE for the weekly Curbside Cuisine event. You’ll be able to enjoy fresh, local meals from a number of the city’s top food trucks offering everything from barbecue to Mexican to Japanese and beyond. Trucks and menus vary weekly, however, some mobile dining trucks you may see include The Supper Truck; Pig Out; Rustic: A Divine Food Truck; Soo Bak Food Truck; The Scottish Pie Shop; and Gedunk Food Truck.
Peruse Quirky Mom And Pop Shops
Albuquerque in general is a fun and quirky city, a personality trait that bleeds right into its food scene. One place to experience this is The Candy Lady in Old Town, who sells everything from homemade red chile fudge to chocolate penises to blue rock candy made to resemble a certain illegal pastime of Mr. Walter White from “Breaking Bad” (the show was filmed in Albuquerque).
You can also find artisanal truffles, brittles, hand-dipped fruits, licorice, hard candies and pretty much any candy treat you can dream of. Another quirky mom and pop shop is the Golden Crown Panaderia, where father and son Pratt and Chris Morales not only make artisanal Original New Mexico Green Chile Bread, fruit empanadas, tostadas, biscochitos, and appaloosa bread, but also giant bread sculptures ranging from Thanksgiving turkeys to ornate castles. If you order a coffee, you’ll also enjoy latte art in the foam, as the venue takes baking as an art form to the next level.
Chiles and beans, an essential ingredient in Native and New Mexican cuisine.
Explore Native Culture Through The Tongue
No trip to Albuquerque would be complete without sampling Native-influences dishes. The best place to do this is at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center’s Pueblo Harvest Cafe & Bakery. Along with enjoying bread- and tamale-making demonstrations, docents will teach you about the importance of the Three Sisters — corn, beans and squash — in the Native diet. Moreover, dishes like atole, a blue cornmeal porridge; Chackewe con Huevos; green chile stew; traditional fry bread; and calabacitas will give you a true taste of Native Pueblo culture.
Get Fancy At High Tea
Get to know Albuquerque’s more refined side at the St. James Tea Room. The decor of the venue, from the furniture to the fabrics to the music, is Victorian, and you’ll be able to enjoy your own private tea room with a personal tea server. The mission of the venue is to act as a “catalyst for change in our society, toward a return to grace, civility, beauty, gentility and excellence,” and, at least for the time you’re there, you’ll do just that.
The experience starts out with a Prelude like lavender-sugared grapes before a three-tiered tray of finger foods like Lady Catherine’s blackberry & rocket salad; Mr. Darcy’s cheddar scones with clotted cream; traditional cucumber and turkey sandwiches; Mr. Collins’ Crustless Quiche; Elizabeth’s Brie butter canapés; and Pemberley stuffed dates is set before you. This is followed by a handmade dessert for a sweet finish. The food is paired with three delicious teas, which your server will instruct you on how to best flavor with milk and sugar.
Fresh guacamole being made tableside at El Pinto.
Sample Fresh And Flavorful New Mexican
The local cuisine of New Mexico is New Mexican, a cuisine that fuses Mexican, Pueblo Native American, Spanish, Mediterranean and Cowboy Chuckwagon and is widely based on corn, beans, and, most importantly, chiles. Fun fact: New Mexico is the only U.S. state to have an official state question, which is “Red or green?” in reference to what kind of chile you want with your meal. You’ll find numerous New Mexican restaurants around Albuquerque, although some are better than others.
While Garduno’s is known for its meals featuring fresh Native ingredients and craft margaritas, El Pinto is also an excellent choice for fresh New Mexican, with dips prepared tableside (upon request), artisanally-prepared dishes and chiles that are roasted and hand peeled to preserve quality and consistency. Sadie’s of New Mexico is another top choice — especially for those who love spicy food (don’t even think about asking for mild salsa!) — with a reputation for using fresh ingredients and family recipes in bold-flavored dishes.
Some traditional New Mexican dishes you should sample include carne adovada, pulled pork marinated in red chile; atole, a blue cornmeal mush; chiles rellenos, stuffed and fried green chiles; chimichanga, a deep-fried meat and bean burrito smothered in cheese and chile sauce; and chile con queso (not chili con queso), a mixture of chiles and melted cheese. Also try the biscochito, an anise-flavored cookie that is New Mexico’s state cookie.
Travel Logistics/Getting Around:
While nothing is too far away from each other in Albuquerque, it is best explored by car and/or bike. Cycling is becoming a very popular way to get around the city, with a number of bike trails and bike lanes offering safe and scenic transportation. That being said, certain restaurants and experiences might be too far to bike and, to be able to experience as much as possible during your stay, a car is recommended.
Jessica Festa is the editor of the travel sites Jessie on a Journey (http://jessieonajourney.com) and Epicure & Culture (http://epicureandculture.com). Along with blogging at We Blog The World, her byline has appeared in publications like Huffington Post, Gadling, Fodor’s, Travel + Escape, Matador, Viator, The Culture-Ist and many others. After getting her BA/MA in Communication from the State University of New York at Albany, she realized she wasn’t really to stop backpacking and made travel her full time job. Some of her most memorable experiences include studying abroad in Sydney, teaching English in Thailand, doing orphanage work in Ghana, hiking her way through South America and traveling solo through Europe. She has a passion for backpacking, adventure, hiking, wine and getting off the beaten path.