dsc_0017wedded to wanderlust on historic north 4th

photos by Sergio Salvador

You might feel wedded to your hobbies, your significant other, even the Balloon Fiesta fast approaching on the calendar, but are you in happily-ever-after bliss with the adventure of discovering urban edibles right under your nose?  I’ll guide you on a little trip through historic Albuquerque and fall in love with the culinary gems of North 4th Street.

Fourth Street is a splendid example of Albuquerque. It’s not always well-manicured the way you might envision other famous streets like Canyon Road or Rio Grande Boulevard, yet holds treasures and new interests along the way.  It has funk and pride and more than one amazing taco.  In true wedding style, let’s explore in the traditional four bridal categories:  old, new, borrowed, and blue.

Some Things Old
Sadie’s is what pops to my mind when I think of well-established Albuquerque restaurants.  Over 56 years and still jam-packed every single night, serving favorites like a potent green chile stew and stacked enchiladas. This is what keeps what seems like everyone in town coming back over and over again.

The oldest restaurant on 4th is not the bustling Sadie’s, nor that shrine to meat, Mr. Powdrell’s Barbeque House, nor even fifty-year-old Casa Benavidez.  Rather, it is a more unobtrusive little hangout called El Camino.  Directly out of the 50’s  (1950 to be exact) El Camino even has an original, gorgeous, old sign out front, making this place a comfortable 60 years old in 2010.  The owners told me they’d love to have a party to celebrate but hadn’t yet decided on the details.  For the food, the details I know are this:  the pancakes are diner heaven and the Huevos Rancheros rise to greatness under spicy green chile and perfectly cooked pinto beans.

Rounding out the short list of long-timers is Mary & Tito’s, arguably the best red chile in town.  Mary still mans the counter, greeting old friends and tempting patrons with a glass dome enshrouded, homemade cake.  I’ve never even considered dessert here, though – the chile is all I can keep focused on.  Smoky, earthy and potent, you owe it to yourself to have it at least once.

  • Sadie’s Dining Room 6230 4th Street NW (505) 345-5339
  • Mr Powdrell’s Barbeque House 5209 4th Street NW (505) 345-8086
  • Casa De Benavidez:  8032 4th Street NW (505) 897-7493
  • El Camino Dining Room:  6800 4th Street NW (505) 344-0448
  • Mary & Tito’s Café:  2711 4th Street NW (505) 344-6266

Some Things New
Just north of Candelaria, a “why didn’t I think of that?” establishment is making lives easier, namely Loveland Farms Drive-Thru Convenience Store.  The bright green building signals loud and proud to passers-by, that they can get milk and bread and be on their way in a hurry.
New restaurants sprout with encouraging frequency and both Melon Mountain Café and Noah’s Ark Café show promise after just several months each.  At Melon Mountain the sweets are unique  –  like peanut butter pie  –  and all are delicious.  Noah’s Ark features cuisine out of New Orleans, from po’boys to stewed okra and etouffé in-between.

El Pinto itself is not new, but if you’ve visited a grocery store outside of the state recently, you know that wonderful things are happening for the Salsa Twins.  They’ve opened up a new facility just behind the main restaurant, to bottle and distribute their fantastic salsas.  It’s for this reason I can buy a hot-for-locals-only jar of salsa in my hometown in Wisconsin.  Yes, Wisconsin.

  • Loveland Farms Drive-Thru Convenience Store 3741 4th Street NW (505) 559-0600
  • Melon Mountain Cafe 6100 4th Street NW (505) 341-9541
  • Noah’s Ark Cafe 5312 4th Street Northwest (505) 344-1441
  • El Pinto Restaurant 10500 4th Street Northwest (505) 898-1771

Some Things Borrowed
This might be New Mexico, but many of our favorite fiery edibles come right out of the cookbook of our neighbor to the south and 4th Street has more than a few places you can get authentic Mexican cooking.

Taqueria El Festival is an old-school Mexican café to the nines.  Families crowd the dining room, having the special of the day or just a big bowl of soup if the weather’s cooling down.  Everything from tacos to tortas will fill your belly for prices out of the last decade.

Just south of I-40 is a much newer spot called Birrieria Y Taqueria El Alex, open late in 2009 to a crowd hungry for tacos drenched in lime juice and any of four kinds of salsas.  Their specialty is in the name  –  birria  –  a rich stew made with either goat or lamb, tender and hearty, whether as a plate or in tacos, served four at a time with soft corn tortillas.

  • Taqueria El Festival 4520 4th Street NW (505) 345-7145
  • Birrieria Y Taqueria El Alex 1900 4th St Northwest (505) 247-2199

Some Things Blue
In this state we lay claim to one of the few truly blue foods, blue corn.  Most New Mexicans’ first experience with blue corn is tortillas rolled up into enchiladas and you can find some tasty platefuls at that haven for all things chile, Sadie’s, mentioned earlier.  For another take, try either of two locations on 4th Street for Garcia’s Kitchen, where they’ve been serving up blue corn enchiladas, alongside dozens of other New Mexican treats, for decades.

The adventuresome love to combine their breakfast with blue corn and can do so when Sophia’s Place features blue corn pinon pancakes, stacked tall and dolloped with homemade butter.  Sophia’s is the kind of hideaway that could have blinked out of existence, were it not for the excellent food and a groundswell of excited word of mouth.  Sister restaurant to Ezra’s Place, Dennis Apodaca keeps both places packed whenever the doors are open.

After Sophia’s, saunter next door to The Fruit Basket, a local mini-chain of produce-heavy grocery stores.  You can buy everything here, from blueberries to blue corn posole, at fantastic prices.  I find it the perfect complement to a hearty breakfast – veggies and more, to cook for dinner – even fresh chile in season, roasting out front.

One final way to have your blue and eat it, too, is with a steak from Vernon’s Hidden Valley Steakhouse  –  done “black & blue”, of course.  Charred on the outside and still perfectly rare within, it’s a rite of passage for beef lovers.

  • Garcia’s Kitchen: 1113 4th Street NW (505) 247-9149; and 4917 4th Street NW (505) 341-4594
  • Sophia’s Place: 6313 4th Street NW (505) 345-3935
  • Ezra’s Place 6132 4th Street NW (505) 344-1917
  • Fruit Basket: 6343 4th Street NW (505) 344-0885
  • Vernon’s Hidden Valley: 6855 4th Street NW (505) 341-0831

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