Los Cuates – East Mountains

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

Thin & crispy chips! Mild salsa and hot (l-r).
Thin & crispy chips! Mild salsa and hot (l-r). Good separate or mixed together!

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.

MARGARITA

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.)

Margarita in a Cactus Glass.
Margarita in a Cactus Glass.

SERVICE

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.

THE FOOD

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.”

New Mexican Combo
New Mexican Combo: Taco, Enchilada, 1/4 rack ribs, RBI. Star of the plate = Red Chile Ribs!

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.

INDIAN TACO

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.

Indian Taco -- SO GOOD
Indian Taco — SO GOOD

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.

Tostadas, aka "two large orders of bean dip"
Tostadas, aka “two large orders of bean dip”

TACO PLATE

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.

Taco Plate -- a NM Staple!
Taco Plate — a NM Staple!

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.

Sopapillas = good. More sopapillas = better.
Sopapillas = good. More sopapillas = better.

THE CHILE

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.

THE CHECK

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!

LIVE MUSIC

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.

SUMMARY

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.

Also, look at the cool door handles:

I want these on my house.
I want these on my house.

 

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