Part 2: History Meets Hip and Happening in Albuquerque

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STAY, EAT & BE ENTERTAINED IN ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO!
Part 2: History Meets Hip and Happening in Albuquerque – See Part 1 here.
By Debbie Stone

You’ll definitely require nourishment while exploring this fascinating destination. Fortunately, Albuquerque knows food, and you’d be correct to assume it dominates when it comes to New Mexican and Southwestern cuisine. Dishes feature a unique blend of Native American and Spanish flavors with preparations emphasizing the signature ingredients of red and green chiles. Chiles are the backbone of New Mexican cooking and you’ll find them smothered and atop of just about everything, and I mean everything. They’re mixed in sauces, soups and stews, ice cream, chocolate, jam and even sushi. When ordering, make sure to specify green or red, or if you want both, do as the locals do and say “Christmas.”

From hot air balloon rides and flamenco dancing, to museums and southwest cuisine, travel writer Debbie Stone shares her adventures in Albuquerque, New Mexico on Big Blend Radio.

 

El Pinto has long been the go-to spot for locals and visitors wanting authentic New Mexico cuisine. The family-run business still uses the recipes of the owners’ grandma and features a wide selection of choices that include flavors from the kitchen’s homemade green chile sauces and salsas. The food is plentiful and filling with the usual suspects, including tamales, carne adovada, huevos rancheros, burritos, enchiladas and more. There’s also a health conscious section on the menu and gluten free options as well. El Pinto’s bar is noteworthy, as it serves up over 160 different Blue Agave tequilas and several dozen types of Mezcals. To top it off, you’ll be dining in a charming old, multi-room hacienda surrounded by lush gardens.

You’ll discover, however, that there’s more to Albuquerque’s food scene than chiles. Options abound, from Mediterranean and Indian restaurants to Vietnamese and even African, with a slew of steakhouses, pizzerias, bbq joints and vegan-centric eateries to round out the multitude of offerings.

Farm-to-fork, seasonal, local and organic are descriptions you’ll often find on the menus. Many chefs here believe in supporting area farmers and sustainable agriculture. They source their ingredients from growers and producers in Albuquerque and throughout New Mexico, as well as the Southwest region.

One of the city’s favorite breakfast, brunch and lunch gathering spots is the Grove Café & Market. Sate your appetite with the sweet potato hash, avocado toast or Croque Madame. On the sweeter side, try the French style Grove Pancakes with fresh fruit, local honey and crème fraiche. You can’t go wrong at the Grove!

For a truly memorable farm-to-table experience, point your car north to Los Poblanos in the Los Ranchos area. This lovely inn and organic farm, not only has beautiful grounds, but a top rated restaurant, CAMPO, which is located in a renovated dairy building. James Beard Award-nominated Chef Jonathan Perno heads up the wood-fire kitchen. He’s a culinary artiste, who creates dishes indigenous to and inspired by the richness of the Rio Grande Valley. The menu evolves with the seasons and is dependent on the daily harvest. I waxed poetic over the Crab and Grits and Forbidden Porridge at a recent brunch. And the lavender latte was the perfect accompaniment.

Another special place is MÁS Tapas y Vino. Tucked inside the historic Hotel Andaluz, where Conrad Hilton once proposed to Zsa Zsa Gabor, this stylish restaurant is known for its tasty tapas. Food is inspired by the bold flavors of Spanish cooking, with creative reinventions of traditional Spanish cuisine. Get the party started with the Mezze, followed by such small, sharable plates as the Patatas Bravas (very addicting!), King Oyster Mushrooms, Crispy Brussel Sprouts and Honey Bacon Wrapped Dates. It’s easy to make a meal out of a succession of the tapas and they add greater variety to your dining experience.

Albuquerque also knows wine, which may come as news to some folks. But, the word is finally getting out about New Mexico varietals. People are discovering what others have known for a long time – that the state’s unique combination of sun, high altitude, dry climate and soil are ideal conditions for growing premium grapes. And with a talented group of vintners at the helm, New Mexico wines are gradually making their mark on the scene.

Put Casa Rondeña on your list, not only for a great wine tasting experience, but for the ambiance. Owner and award-winning vintner John Calvin is regarded as a pioneer of premium winemaking in the state and has helped to increase the popularity and knowledge of high desert wines. His winery is a picturesque estate in pastoral Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, where you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported to Tuscany.

D.H. Lescombes Winery & Bistro is another spot for tasting fine New Mexico award-winning wines. There’s also the added bonus of being able to pair your libations with some great chow from the bistro’s epicurean style menu. Lescombes is a sixth generation French winemaking family, whose lineage has spanned three continents: France, Africa and North America. Hervé Lescombes, the father, ran a successful winery in Burgundy. He was drawn to New Mexico due to its similar climate as his native Algeria, where he and his ancestors grew grapes and made wine for many years. The family’s 200-acre vineyard is located near Deming, in the southern part of the state.

 

One of the newer kids on the block is Sheehan Wines. Founder and winemaker Sean Sheehan worked eleven years at other wineries before opening his own place in December 2015. His boutique “backyard winery,” which is actually located next door to his house, currently produces thirty-five different wines, mostly reds, using one hundred percent New Mexico grown grapes. Sheehan has already begun to rack up the awards. His Chambourcin was the 2017 Gold Medal Winner in the New Mexico State Wine Competition. Though the winery is only open one day a month, you can find his wines around town and at festivals across the state.

Beer drinkers don’t despair, as Duke City has you covered. For two years running, the town has made Travelocity’s top ten beer destinations. And with more than fifty breweries and taprooms, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to experience the town’s craft culture.

Where there’s food and wine, there must be entertainment. Music and theater opportunities abound, but it’s the city’s flamenco scene that really sizzles. You might be surprised to learn that Albuquerque is the North American capital of flamenco. The art form is an integral part of New Mexico with roots that stem from the extensive Spanish influence in the region.

This folkloric tradition is not only celebrated and supported by the community, but it is also a noted field of study. The University of New Mexico in Albuquerque actually boasts the only dance program in the world where one can receive B.A. and M.F.A. degrees with a concentration in flamenco. There’s also the renowned National Institute of Flamenco, where mere mortals can get an introduction into this thrilling art form.

Each year, Duke City plays host to the week-long Festival Flamenco Alburquerque (the spelling is a nod to the 18th century Spanish viceroy of the same name). It features flamenco artists from Spain, workshops and classes for flamenco artists of all levels and a variety of performances. This is the single largest gathering of flamenco performance, dance, music and education in North America, and the most important flamenco event outside of Spain.

One of the best flamenco shows in town is Tablao Flamenco Albuquerque. It’s a hot ticket that consistently elicits rave reviews. Be prepared for a mesmerizing and exhilarating performance of this passionate, dramatic dance and music spectacle. There’s strumming and drumming, singing, clapping, tapping, stamping and plenty of swirling and twirling. Dancers command the stage with a fiery intensity. Their smoldering magnetism draws the audience in and refuses to let go until the last flick of the wrist. It’s impossible to take your eyes off these gifted performers, as their feats of movement and the speed at which they perform them is jaw-dropping impressive. Also remarkable is the fact that as a tablao, the show is mostly improvisational, demanding close communication between dancer and musician.

Finding a place to lay your head down at night is never an issue in Duke City. Accommodation options range from high-end properties and historic hotels to cozy inns and B&Bs, along with the proverbial chain brands. Relatively new to the lodging scene is Hotel Chaco, a Heritage Hotel & Resort. This boutique, luxury property on the edge of the Old Town District is a standout.

Inspired by the ancient civilization at Chaco Canyon, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the hotel seamlessly blends traditional and contemporary styles, using a color palette of soothing organic tones. Guests are in for a sensory treat as soon as they enter this special property and find themselves surrounded by unique and beautiful pieces of art. The hotel houses one of the most prominent collections of original contemporary Native American and New Mexican artwork in the world. More than twenty-three, highly celebrated Native American artists from ten Southwestern pueblos and tribes are represented.

The front doors, designed by artist Tammy Garcia of the Santa Clara Pueblo, are a modern interpretation of the black on black pottery renowned from this particular pueblo. Inside the lobby, there are several sculptures; the centerpiece is a striking bronze, entitled, “Oneness,” by Joe Cajero of the Jemez Pueblo. It’s a representation of the connection of one with nature and the mind/body/spirit. Above the front desk is a ceramic piece called, “The Guardian,” by Roxanne Swentzell of the Santa Clara Pueblo. It’s intended to watch over the hotel like a spiritual guardian angel. Paintings on the walls evoke elements involving sacred symbols, petroglyphs, iconic Southwestern images, ceremonial architecture, seasonal features and more.

The hotel is amenity- rich with a full-service restaurant, bar, wine tasting room, outdoor pool and fitness center. Rooms are spacious, perfectly appointed and tastefully decorated. The rugs above the beds are particularly eye-catching. They were woven by Navajo weavers on native style looms in the traditional manner of their ancestors.

The hotel’s restaurant, Level 5, is on the fifth floor and rooftop of the building, and is named in homage to Chaco Canyon’s Pueblo Bonito, which had five levels. The rock and beam design and framed views of the mountains give the place a canyonesque feel, creating an atmosphere that is both cozy and expansive. The food is equally impressive with dishes that reflect local, regional and specialty ingredients from partner farmers and growers. Recent offerings included Watermelon-Guava BBQ Glazed Chicken Breast, Miso Steam Chilean Sea Bass and House Made Agnolotti Pasta with Hatch Green Chile, Sweet Corn and Ricotta Cheese. Save room for the Chaco Lime Curd Tartlet or New Mexico Yerba Buena Semi-Freddo.

As the sun begins to set, grab a seat on the deck, along with a specially crafted cocktail, and admire the breathtaking view of the Sandia Mountains. The word “sandia” means watermelon in Spanish and you’ll quickly understand why this is the perfect name for these peaks. When the sun shines against the western face of the mountains at the golden hour, they take on a rosy pink hue. It’s a divine sight that resembles an Impressionist painting. One for the memory books, for sure.

For all things Albuquerque: www.visitalbuquerque.org

Debbie Stone is an established travel writer and columnist, and regular contributor for Big Blend Radio and Big Blend Magazines, who crosses the globe in search of unique destinations and experiences to share with her readers and listeners. She’s an avid explorer who welcomes new opportunities to increase awareness and enthusiasm for places, culture, food, history, nature, outdoor adventure, wellness and more. Her travels have taken her to nearly 100 countries and to all seven continents.

 

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