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Best Albuquerque Restaurants

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Come to Albuquerque hungry, and with stretchy pants. The best Albuquerque restaurants will feed you generously, and for relatively little money. Traditional New Mexican food is spicy-hot with the local variety of chile in two strains—no matter what the menu suggests, servers will ask “Green or red?” when you order your huevos rancheros, enchiladas, burritos, whatever. Green chile is usually a chunky sauce, sometimes made into a stew, or applied to cheeseburgers and pizzas. Red chile is ground into a smooth, thick sauce that’s earthy and hot. Don’t skip the sopaipillas—pillow-like squares of fried dough that you can chew with your chile to cut the heat or drizzle with honey for dessert. If you want to eat really well, plan a few of your days around lunch, rather than dinner—some of the best places to eat in Albuquerque are open only through the afternoon. But do also save a little appetite for the not-so-traditional places to eat. The locavore movement is strong in Albuquerque, and you can sample produce from nearby farms in hip cafes and from the kitchen of a James Beard-honored chef—where you won’t have to dress up a bit (though maybe change out of the stretchy pants into some clean jeans for the occasion). Most of the best restaurants are downtown and in Nob Hill, though the ones that are farther out are definitely worth the drive.

Artichoke Cafe

Neighborhood: Downtown Price: Expensive
The Artichoke Café has been Albuquerque's date-night favorite since 1989 (and old-timers remember its earlier incarnation even before that). The subdued, softly-lit restaurant keeps up with food trends without seeming faddish, and the menu is always a seasonal mix of Mediterranean-ish dishes, with the occasional more exotic flavor: five-spice roasted duck, for instance, alongside homemade pumpkin ravioli. It’s a good idea to make reservations a couple of nights ahead here, and let them know if you have something special to celebrate. Next door, the same owners run the excellent Farina Pizzeria, which does crisp-crust, creatively topped pies in a more casual, industrial space.

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Jennifer James 101

Neighborhood: Albuquerque Metro Area Price: Expensive

Chef James has been a fixture in Albuquerque for years, but she didn't get the recognition she deserved until 2009, when she was nominated for a James Beard award. Not that anyone would know to look at the place: The 30-seat restaurant sits in a strip mall on a busy boulevard. But once you're seated, a sense of calm and simplicity takes over. The menu is strictly seasonal, with only a few entrée and appetizer selections each night, but intense flavor starts with the spiced butters and continues through deceptively simple combinations like Cremini mushrooms, celery and capers. On Tuesday and Wednesday nights, there's an eight-seat "community table," where diners are served a set menu with matched wines—it's a bargain at $50, and a great place to meet local foodies. Reservations are required for any night, so they know how much food to have on hand.

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El Patio

Neighborhood: University & Nob Hill Price: Moderate
Bohemian El Patio has one major specialty: green-chile chicken enchiladas. Oddly, they come with a side of fried potatoes, rather than the usual rice—just one example of how this restaurant has been marching to its own beat for decades. It also caters to vegetarians, with some tasty all-veggie enchiladas and totally meat-free chile sauces (this is a common pitfall for the veg set in New Mexico—meat is often tossed into sauces “just for flavor,” or lard is used to fry beans). The restaurant is set in a creaky old wooden house not far from the university. On weekend evenings, someone’s usually playing classical guitar in one of the rooms—oh, and true to the name, there is patio seating out front.

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Ezra's Place

Neighborhood: Corrales & Los Ranchos Price: Moderate
In a cooler city, a largely organic restaurant in a bowling alley would be a total hipster vortex. In humble Albuquerque, though, Ezra's Place is just a modest, family-run operation that happens to serve things like duck enchiladas with tomatillo-serrano sauce and toasted pumpkin seeds, along with a locally farmed lettuce. And if this sounds good, just wait till you see the daily-specials board, which incorporates seasonal, local ingredients into dishes from all over the globe, without an ounce of pretension. And the setting is just what you imagine: padded-vinyl booths overlooking the bowling lanes. Ezra's is open for lunch and dinner and Sunday brunch, with a couple of hours off in the afternoon. The same family runs equally awesome Sophia's Place, just up the street at 6313 Fourth St. N.W., with killer breakfast (try anything involving poached eggs and red chile) and lunch.

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Flying Star

Neighborhood: University & Nob Hill Price: Moderate
Local mini-chain Flying Star started out selling ice cream and magazines, but has since expanded to satisfy locals' every craving, whether it's a turkey-and-green-chile sandwich, a veggie Asian noodle bowl or just a chewy ginger cookie and a cup of coffee. It has grown into seven locations around the city, all with similarly sleek and colorful décor. But this is the mothership—still sporting a huge selection of magazines and ringing with the clatter of dishes and the chatter of happy diners.

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The Grove

Neighborhood: Downtown Price: Moderate
This café merges ethical eating with a casual atmosphere—it's a bit like Flying Star for the super-organic set. Set in the hip EDo (East Downtown) neighborhood, on Central east of I-40, the Grove has an edgy, industrial look, with lots of slate and brushed concrete—as if the designers were working extra-hard to shed all hippie connotations of the locavore food movement. Likewise, don't expect gratuitous sunflower seeds or seitan on your giant salad—but the greens are harvested from the farmland at Los Poblanos. Just about every other ingredient is vouched-for in some way, from the happy-hen eggs to the fair-trade coffee. You can cap off a meal with adorable cupcakes or rich cookies.

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Duran Central Pharmacy

Neighborhood: Old Town Price: Budget
As the name suggests, you'll have to walk past aisles of aspirin, toothpaste and magazines before you find the good eats at Duran. The action is at a small lunch counter off to the left from the main entrance. This is where a crew of crusty regulars—and intrepid visitors—gather for breakfast, with a big plate of huevos rancheros, or for lunch, when bowls of stew studded with spicy green chile are the standard order. The atmosphere is fluorescent-lit and no-nonsense, but this is some of the finest traditional New Mexican food you'll find in the city. The place takes cash only.

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Neighborhood: University & Nob Hill Price: Budget
The Frontier is no less than Albuquerque's heart and soul, packed from dawn till past midnight with an admirable cross-section of the city's population. Over the decades, the diner has expanded into neighboring storefronts, so it occupies the better part of a block, and each room is decked out with some form of Southwestern art. "Meet me in the rug room," a local might say, or "I'm at the table under the John Wayne portrait—the biggest one." And what about the food? It's so good the employees eat here on their days off: hearty, chile-and-cheese-laden New Mexican platters, flame-broiled burgers, fresh-squeezed orange juice and cinnamon rolls that make your heart stop just by looking at them. There's also a vat of green chile on the condiment station, and a tortilla machine to watch while you wait for your order to be called.

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Mary & Tito's

Neighborhood: Albuquerque Metro Area Price: Budget

One of New Mexico's superlative dishes is carne adovada, pork cubes stewed in the rich, earthy and hot red chile. It's a perfectly simple dish, but one aficionados can argue over for a lifetime—and in every debate, Mary & Tito's is mentioned as the place to get it. The funky little box of a restaurant, on a patchy street midway between downtown and Los Ranchos, serves a whole menu of New Mexican dishes, but you have to try the carne first, perhaps in the "Mexican turnover," a deep-fried tortilla stuffed with the red meat. It's what earned the restaurant its designation as a James Beard American Classic in 2009, after 46 years in business. Plan on lunch or early dinner here—the restaurant closes at 6PM weeknights and 8PM Friday and Saturday.

San Felipe Pueblo Restaurant

Neighborhood: Albuquerque Metro Area Price: Budget

Rarely has a restaurant with a freeway exit for an address been so delectable—this is road food at its best, a perfect place to stop on the way to Tent Rocks or Santa Fe. Pull off at the casino and head for the gas station. Past the convenience store and a clutch of slot machines is the entrance to a big, simple diner with a long counter and (bizarrely) carpeted floors. The menu caters to every driver's taste, from spaghetti and meatballs to chicken-fried steak, but the real highlights are the local dishes like posole, thick with chewy hominy kernels and spicy with green chile. Many dishes are served with "pueblo bread," thicker than a flour tortilla and charred from being cooked on the griddle.

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