I truly believe there is no such thing as a bad sopaipilla. The only real crime is to bring them out cold, and even then they are still pretty good. So the hunt for the best one is really a “best of the best” competition, and one I will happily take on for the team, you’re welcome.
In our quest for New Mexico’s best sopaipillas, I present Exhibit A: Padilla’s Mexican Kitchen, Albuquerque. These sopes are light, fluffy, and come 2 per person, so you can have one to sop up your red sauce, and one for dessert. And yes, they come out hot and fresh.
Padilla’s Mexican Kitchen is located in the University area of Albuquerque at 1510 Girard Blvd NE. They are open Monday – Friday 11:00 – 7:30 p.m. but they are CLOSED SATURDAY AND SUNDAY (don’t ask me why, it makes zero sense to me too).
The interior is not a lot to look at, but these hole-in-the-wall gems rarely are. During busy times, the line to be seated can get pretty long and just kind of winds in a loop around the dining area, which is odd but not a deal breaker. Though this is a post about sopaipillas, I will add that everything we ordered here (ranging from rellenos to enchiladas to taco plates) was wonderful, classic New Mexico “side of rice and beans” kind of fare. Delicious! Highly recommend.
10/10 would eat again.
Padilla’s is also a CASH ONLY establishment, so go prepared!
The food is inexpensive and you get a lot for your $ though.
We rolled into Ruidoso at what I thought was an optimal time, pulling into the parking lot at Casa Blanca at around 1:30 pm. A little after the lunch rush, but not too close to dinner time. As most New Mexicans know (and as I learned), roughly half the population of Texas descends on Ruidoso this time of year. We had about a 15 minute wait for a table, which, considering the crowd in town and in the waiting area, I thought this was very reasonable. (Author’s note: Okay, not really. I wanted to dig into those green chile strips so bad, I thought 15 minutes sounded like an eternity!)
The hostess and the wait staff were very friendly, considering everyone was hustling and bustling. We were seated at a nice table near a window, with plenty of room for our party of five. Three baskets of warm, crispy tortilla chips arrived immediately after we were seated, along with three bowls of very good salsa.
[Zia’s note: These are the best chips & salsa I’ve had in an eternity.]
After placing our drink orders, we asked for two baskets of their world (probably) famous fried green chile strips.
How do I describe these things?
How would Picasso paint a lovely woman in a hat and fur coat?
How would Neruda describe love?
Well, since I can’t really channel either of those famous Pablos, I will do my best to describe them from a foodie’s perspective. They arrive at your table nice and hot, almost too hot to eat immediately. The batter is light and crisp, sort of flaky. The peppers themselves are cooked to perfection; they’re not soggy or greasy, but firm. If it’s possible (or legal?) to describe a chile pepper as cooked “al dente,” then that’s what I’d go with. So, once these have cooled down a bit (about 10 seconds after they arrive to your table…a slightly burnt tongue is a reasonable price to pay), just pick one up and dredge it through some ranch dressing. The ranch will cool it off a bit. Bite, chew, and enjoy. Repeat ad infinitum or until the basket runs dry.
Confession: the chips and salsa and the chile strips were plenty filling and could easily have been our meal…but that’s not how we roll.
Jalapeno BLT: Reading the menu, this sandwich sounded SO good. Smoked jalapeno bacon on sourdough with lettuce, tomato and a habanero mayonnaise.
However, if I’d read the menu a little closer, I would have noticed that there is also cheddar cheese on this sandwich. I love cheddar cheese, and I love a good BLT, but I’ve never been a fan of cheese ON my BLT. Had I noticed, I simply would have asked the waitress to hold the cheese, so that one is on me. The sandwich itself was VERY salty, mostly due to the jalapeno bacon. The bacon was spicy, and taking a bite of the sandwich would definitely warm up the inside of your mouth, but the salt content was just too high. The combination of salt and heat makes you go through a lot of iced tea, so keep your glass full! (The wait staff was very good at keeping everyone’s glasses full.)
Going around the table, everyone was pleased with their entrees, but I think all of us had gotten so full of chips and salsa and fried green chiles that we had (temporarily) lost our enthusiasm for eating. Zia ordered the Taco Plate, which she reported to be “your typical taco plate.” Similar reports from the rest of the team.
NOTE: Casa Blanca offers a dessert sopapilla, which is ginormous and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. We were too stuffed to go there, but I’d highly recommend ordering like this: Chips & Salsa, Fried Green Chile Strips, Sopapillas. It WILL be plenty of food. You WILL leave happy.
Overall, I like Casa Blanca. I’ve been there twice now and would definitely return . . . as long as they keep frying up those green chiles.
Los Cuates has five restaurants in the Albuquerque area. This review is based solely on the location at 1250 Hwy 14 in Sandia Park, NM.
According to the Los Cuates website, they “offer freshly prepared food and a warm ambience that exudes an affordable dining experience,” and I agree. The food was good, the atmosphere was warm and friendly, the service was good, albeit a bit slow, and the price was surprisingly affordable.
We arrived at Los Cuates on Saturday at about 6:00 pm. The restaurant was not crowded. When we walked in, we were greeted and seated right away by a smiling and friendly hostess. At our table, the waitress arrived quickly, brought chips and salsa, and took our drink orders.
CHIPS AND SALSA
New Mexico — the land of free chips and salsa! The chips were thin, crispy, warm, and delicious. The only problem here was an unusual amount of “crumbs,” broken bits of chip too small for dipping. When we pointed this out to the waitress, she quickly whisked them away and brought us a fresh batch. As for the salsa, Zia and I loved it! It was dark and spicy with a unique smoky flavor you don’t normally find in restaurant style salsa. However, it was pretty spicy, so the waitress brought out a milder option, which was more tomato-based, rather than chile-based. In my opinion, both salsas were very tasty.
Zia’s mom ordered a margarita on the rocks. No one else ordered a “drink” drink, so we all got to take sips. The margarita was REALLY good! So good in fact, that if I were not driving, I would have ordered one of the large sized ones for myself. (Los Cuates offers two margarita sizes, a “normal” sized one like you’d expect in a typical margarita glass, and the “large,” which is roughly the size of a mop bucket…with a salted rim.)
When the waitress returned, she told us that she was new and still learning the menu. I appreciated that, and I also appreciated that she was very friendly and quick with a smile. Before I talk about the food, I will say that a mistake was made in the kitchen with entering our order into the system. This was not our waitress’s fault. We noticed that our order was taking a long time, as people who came in after us were already being served. Eventually, a manager came out and told us what had happened, at that he was at fault, and that they would have our order out very soon. To make up for the snafu, they brought out extra sopapillas, which I thought made up for the error.
Now for the food! I’ll give a quick tour around the table. Zia’s dad ordered the Tacos, Zia’s mom ordered the Indian Taco, Zia ordered two bean tostadas from the a la carte menu, and I had a special called the “New Mexican Combo.”
The NEW MEXICAN COMBO was a taco, a cheese enchilada, and a ¼ rack of pork ribs (about 3 small ribs worth) with the standard rice, beans, and iceberg lettuce (RBI) on the side. The highlight of the meal was the ribs. They were slathered in a red chile sauce, and were tender, spicy, and tasty. The taco and cheese enchilada were good, but not remarkable. The seasoned ground beef in the taco was nicely seasoned and very good, and the garnishments were all fresh and delicious. The shell was the downside — not that it was bad, just ordinary.
It was determined by a very informal non-poll that the Indian Taco was the best entrée on the table. The base was basically a very large, flat sopapilla. In the center, it was heaped with seasoned ground beef, cheese, beans, lettuce, and tomato. It might not look like much, but the combo of the slightly sweet “fry bread” (I still maintain that this is a sopapilla) and salty seasoned ground beef was kind of magical.
TOSTADAS (“BEAN DIP”)
According to Zia, she was expecting two flat, crispy corn tortillas, topped with refried beans, lettuce, cheese, onion, and tomato. This is the way tostadas are served 75% of the time in restaurants (and 100% of the time at home). You should be able to pick them up and eat them fairly neatly — like a flat taco. So when the tostadas arrived, she was a little… bummed. As you can probably see in the photo below, the tostadas were actually two very large shells, filled about 1.5″ deep with refried beans. That’s a lot of bean. Zia was able to pick & dip her way through about 2/3 of one tostada before giving up. She also said that the shells were stale.
One of the greatest things about living in New Mexico is the ability — nay, the right — to order a Taco Plate almost anywhere. NM tacos typically come with seasoned ground beef, grated cheddar, diced onion, shredded lettuce, and diced tomato. Salsa on the side. Because they are so standard in composition, it’s easy to compare one taco plate to another. The verdict here is that Los Cuates puts out a solid taco plate. Not the best in the state (or even in the East Mountains), but pretty good. The highlight of this taco plate, according to Zia’s dad, was the seasoned ground beef.
NO SUCH THING AS A BAD SOPAPILLA
Due to the aforementioned snafu with our order, the server brought out what seemed to be around 100 sopapillas (probably more like a dozen…but it seemed like a lot more). They were somewhat dense & chewy (which may or may not be your thing), fresh, and hot.
We ordered both red and green on the side for the table. Both were fine but not knock-your-socks-off amazing. The red had a little bite to it, and the green was milder but had nice big chunks of green chile in it.
When I’m ordering, especially when I’m hungry, I don’t always pay attention to prices; I mostly concentrate on the food. (This has burned me before. I once paid $60 for a steak at a restaurant in California. Talk about sticker shock!) Fortunately, at Los Cuates, sticker shock worked in our favor. Our bill for four adults, including a cocktail, was only $55 before the tip. We all thought this was very reasonable!
The building runs north-south. We were seated at the north end of the restaurant. At the south end is the bar, and there was a band playing in the bar that night. Needless to say, the bar area was very noisy with a live band playing. Where we were seated, we could hear the music, but it wasn’t too loud at all. So don’t be worried about dining there during live music nights.
Overall, I recommend Los Cuates in Sandia Park. While I wouldn’t make a special trip all the way from Albuquerque just to eat there (when there’s four other locations already in Albuquerque), if you’re enjoying a day in the East Mountains or cruising the Turquoise Trail and craving New Mexican food, then it’s worth stopping in.
A chile relleno is a hard thing to master. You have to get the ratio of cheese to chile to breading just right, or you end up with a mess. Too much breading and it’s heavy. Too much cheese and you lose the chile. Too much sauce on top and you get a soggy pile.
For me growing up, chile rellenos were always crispy, served right out of the grease with just a hint of red or green on top. My dad would stand over the stove, one hand holding a slotted spoon poised over the pot of popping grease, the other hand held out for balance, it seemed, all fingers thickly coated in batter and flour. As soon as a relleno turned a medium brown, it was scooped up and served. Letting it sit on a stack of paper towels for a moment was allowed, but only long enough to let a little oil drip off. Not long enough for it to cool down or soften in its own juices.
Most times I go to a new (new to me) Mexican or New Mexican restaurant, I get a combo plate of some kind. I usually look for the combo plate that includes a taco, enchilada, and relleno. It is the crispy, rightly-ratioed version of the relleno of my childhood that I’m looking for.
Most restaurants get it wrong*. The typical problem is an overabundance of batter, more pancake-like than anything else, and/or an overabundance of sauce on top — a “smothered” relleno is a soggy relleno. Or they use a Poblano pepper, and… that’s just weird.
But Cervantes…. Cervantes gets it right.
NOTE: Thank you, Cervantes, for putting the taco on its own little plate. Many restaurants put the taco alongside everything else (between the enchilada and beans, for example), which means the bottom of the taco sits in the bean juice and red/green sauce until you pick it up, at which time it promptly falls apart because the integrity of the shell has been compromised. I’m looking at you, THE SHED.
Above: Combo Plate #2: Taco (on its own plate!), Enchilada, Relleno, Carne Adovada + RBI (rice, beans, iceberg)
Anyway, the first thing I did was take a bite of the relleno. It was a little too smothered for my personal preference, but the relleno underneath was actually crispy! It had some texture to it. The chile had great flavor, there was just the right amount of cheese, and the batter wasn’t overpowering. AHHHH! (Insert mental image of the heavens opening up and angels singing here.)
I was thrilled to have found what I consider to be a properly cooked (and delicious) chile relleno at Cervantes.
SURPRISE ON THE PLATE:
The combo plates come with the typical sides of beans and rice, but also with a little dollop of carne adovada. The carne adovada (shredded pork in red) was absolutely the best thing on the plate, and that’s saying something. I was disappointed that there was only a little scoop – maybe 1/3 cup. Next time I will order more adovada.
WHAT ELSE WE ORDERED:
Carnitas plate: Cubed pork in a roasty green chile sauce. Served with RIB and hot, homemade flour tortillas. It was really good! Peppery, porky, green chile-y, but not spicy. (If you want spicy, you have to get something with red.) The flour tortillas were fantastic!
Above: Carnitas plate: Cubed pork in green chile sauce, RBI, homemade tortillas
The meals also come with sopaipillas, which makes me beyond happy. The sopaipillas are a little bit dense, but still delicious, and they are served with local honey.
KEEP IN MIND:
The red chile is hotter than the green, and the day I went it was pretty spicy. Not “OMG Bring Me Milk Now” kind of hot, but it was spicy enough for me to take notice! Just the perfect amount of heat. I ordered my meal Christmas style, and the green chile was super flavorful, but not at all spicy.
Cervantes has been around a long time – according to the sign outside, since 1973. The building exterior and the neighborhood are not impressive. Which is pretty typical of really awesome NM restaurants. The slightly shady neighborhood and run-down looking building and abandoned Pizza Hut building next door let you know you’re in for a treat.
The google internetz machine calls this the “International District.” Having lived and worked in Albuquerque for a long time, I would call this the “Base District” (or probably just “Over by base”) because it’s right outside Kirtland Air Force Base. Specifically, outside the Gibson/Louisiana gate, at the corner of Gibson and San Pedro. This makes it an easy lunch for anyone working at Kirtland, but also puts it within easy reach of UNM, Nob Hill, and even the airport.
The interior is kind of dark and cozy and typical of a legit New Mexican restaurant. Not trying too hard, but trying enough. The walls are hung with lovely local art – paintings of adobe in the snow, and the like. I visited Cervantes in early July, and the interior was decked out in July 4th décor. And not just the obligatory flag here and there – they go all out. They do this for all major holidays. You should see it at Christmas!
Cervantes is really really good. It is legit, authentic, traditional New Mexican food, with excellent red chile and a chile relleno — (almost) just like you’d get at my dad’s house.
*Yes, after decades of searching for a relleno cooked the “right” way, and 95% of the time finding rellenos cooked the “wrong” way, it has occurred to me that maybe my family and I make and prefer our rellenos the “wrong” way. But I’m sticking with this, regardless.