If you’re anything like me, your heart has been aching for something. It’s just the right balance of local with a hint of outside intrigue. It’s fresh, warm, and New Mexican, with a pile of crispy spiced potatoes and a dollop of perfectly rich red chile. It’s Sophia’s and IT’S BACK! This time, hopefully, for good.
Anyone who’s lived in ‘Burque for any significant amount of time will know the return of the homey counter-service eatery with a bit of a cult following is cause to rejoice. Sophia’s, known for its consistently flavorful takes on classics, colorful specials, and its owner’s roots in some elite California establishments, has undergone a few iterations – most recently as Eli’s Place, out of an unassuming North Valley facade. In 2016, it closed its doors after the building was condemned, but this time, owner and mastermind Dennis Apodaca is sticking to the winning formula.
The new Sophia’s will feature the same lineup of breakfast and lunch as the former Sophia’s, including omelets, a quesadilla, huevos rancheros and creative sandwiches, salads and tostadas. Sophia’s, which has always been named after Apodaca’s daughter, will partially adopt its predecessor’s moniker as “Remixx,” but will still be known as Sophia’s. Plans for a revamped dinner menu and late hours are in the works, along with a partnership with the Abbey Brewing Company (of Monks’ Corner Taproom downtown), which will serve beer and wine out of a Sophia’s taproom.
And according to owner Apodaca, who got his start at renowned West Coast establishments like Chez Panisse and the Zuni Cafe, it took a lot to get here. He opened the original Sophia’s in 2000 as a way to spend more time with the kids after a divorce, but the restaurant just got busier and busier. “I just envisioned spending time with my kids and it just grew from there with no expectations,” he said. From the depths of a kitchen with no range or oven, they started out selling “asian noodle bowls” (in 2000!) and spins on New Mexican fare. When demand grew beyond their capacity to boil water for the noodles, they knew they had a good thing going.
In 2008, Apodaca opened Ezra’s, a restaurant inside the Lucky 66 bowling alley serving creative, higher-end dishes near Sophia’s. He later renamed Sophia’s, Eli’s Place, but had to close again in 2016 when the building was condemned. “That was a sad day for everybody,” Apodaca said, “because Sophia’s has always been a community restaurant – family owned, family run.” After opening Maya’s, a joint operation between him and Cecelia Schmider that Apodaca has since left, Apodaca noticed the location at 10th and Central, formerly Mixx Food Bar, standing unoccupied. He kept his eye on it. “I was the first person they called,” he said. And it’s still a family operation. His mother, Josie Armijo, still works the front counter, after 16 years at the original location. His kids have all worked at Sophia’s, and the cooks he’s taken with him from the old location are what preserves the crowd favorites.
The specials board that many customers have come to rely on is in constant flux, as Apodaca encourages his staff to experiment. “We’re just always trying to play with the menu and trying to make new and interesting things.” And play they do, with local produce from Apodaca’s farmer friends in Corrales, and with the help of the Downtown Growers’ Market, where they hope to source fresh and seasonal ingredients weekly. Surprises coming out of the kitchen have been as diverse as lemongrass-chicken tacos, a fresh beet amuse-bouche, mixed nuts with chipotle and ancho chile, and an organic pork shoulder special, marinated pibil style, served on a sope-style masa cake with fresh eggs from a farm in Edgewood, NM. When business picks up, Apodaca and the crew plan to serve a few higher-end specials like fresh ceviches and rabbit enchiladas. They’re offering 2$ “street tacos” daily, and have organized some special events, like their themed nights under the Remixx name, until Sophia’s remains open during regular dinner hours.
Yes, the name may change, and even the location. But at its core, Sophia’s common thread is one that values unexpected flavor above all. They grind and toast their own spices. Everything is carefully seasoned, including those crispy potatoes. “We’re conscious of it, constantly,” Apodaca says. “There’s no bland food, even if it’s a humble bean. We make sure our beans taste really good, and we take the same care making beans as we do our duck. Because everything has to stand on its own to taste good.” As this writer can attest, the individual components still shine in what might be Albuquerque’s heartiest, most delicious breakfast burrito. May I recommend pork carnitas smothered with christmas.
But hey, don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself.
901 Park Ave., SW #102