All posts by roadrunner1966

Hi, I'm Roadrunner! I'm a native of the southeastern United States, born in Georgia, raised in Asheville, NC. I've lived in Virginia, Kentucky, Alaska, Florida and most recently, southern California. So when I'm writing about all of this great New Mexico food, you're getting the scoop from a guy raised on fried...well...everything! I'm looking forward to sharing my New Mexico experience on EatingNewMexico.com. Hiking, cycling, skateboarding, skiing, snowboarding (assuming I acquire this new skill...look for some painfully embarrassing blogs on "beginning snowboarding" this winter...) and most of all EATING all of this great New Mexico food!

So You Want a Little Breaking Bad with Your Donut?

Rebel Donut

2435 Wyoming Blvd NE
Albuquerque, NM 87112
rebeldonut.com

Rebel Donut, according to their website, is Albuquerque’s “premier artisan donut and pastry shop.” Being a recent arrival to the Albuquerque area, I had heard a lot of office chatter around the water cooler about how great this little donut shop was, and how we “had to try it!” So not long ago, with the Albuquerque Balloon Festival in full swing, Team EatingNewMexico took an early morning foray to the Abq East Side to grab some artisan donuts and coffee, and to see if we could spot any hot-air balloons floating over town.

We arrived at Rebel Donut around 7:30 AM on Sunday morning. Their normal business hours are 7:00 AM-4:00 PM on weekends, and according to their Facebook page, they had opened an hour early to accommodate early-risers attending the Balloon Festival. When we arrived, the shop was not busy and we were able to go straight to the counter and start the very challenging task of selecting which donuts we wanted. Actually, it was more of a challenge to decide which ones we WEREN’T going to buy!

The selection was very good. Since there were three of us, we decided on a conservative half-dozen box. Rebel Donut varies their selection daily, so you won’t know what’s available until you walk into the store.

But one of the regulars is the Blue Sky donut, a.k.a. the BREAKING BAD donut, named after the blue sugary crystalized sprinkles on top that closely resemble Walter White’s nefarious creation in the television series. As a “BrBa” fan, the Blue Sky donut was at the top of my list — so much so, we got two.

BrBa Aaron Paul Donuts
Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul admires a box of Blue Sky.

Others that made the cut were the Fruity Rebel, Biscochito, a Red Chile Chocolate Cream, and a Boston Cream.

Rebel Donut - 6-pack
Blue Sky x 2, Fruity Rebel, Biscochito, Red Chile Chocolate Cream, and Boston Cream.

 

The Blue Sky donut was a light cake donut with blue frosting and blue “crystal” candy on top. While it was delicious, we couldn’t quite pinpoint a flavor in it, other than sugar flavor. Maybe cotton candy? Not sure. The Fruity Rebel was a basic cake donut covered with Fruity Pebbles (the 8-year-old liked it). The biscochito had the perfect biscochito flavor — cinnamon, sugar, and the subtle licorice flavor of anise. A true New Mexico tradition, in donut form (genius!). The Red Chile Chocolate Cream was a raised donut with chocolate glaze, and a dollop of red chile pastry cream in the middle. The Boston Cream was your typical BC donut. Tasty!

Other donuts available that day were French Toast, Maple Bacon Bar, Green Chile Glazed, and some more savory selections, such as Jalapeno & Cheese, and Apple Chicken Sausage kolaches.

Rebel Donut display case
So many choices. Get them all!

The donuts were fresh and delicious, and while there are probably “fresh and delicious” donuts all over Albuquerque, the variety and artistry of these confections are what make Rebel Donuts special and are such a big reason for their success.

Something you likely won’t find at Rebel Donut are your typical “donut shop” items, like glazed twists, apple fritters, and bear claws. (Though there was a plain glazed the day we were there.) So if traditional and cheap is what you’re after, you might want to try somewhere that doesn’t have “rebel” in the title.

For coffee lovers, Rebel Donut also has an espresso menu and delicious brewed coffees, including (my favorite), New Mexico Piñon Coffee!

The only negative on the day we visited was the SUN. In the early morning, the sun blasts through the shop’s huge windows, and there was literally NO shaded seating to be found inside. It was hot and bright and really uncomfortable, so we chose to eat in the car while driving around looking for balloons. At the very least, they could pull some shades or something.

Overall though, we were very happy with our Rebel Donut experience, and I highly recommend a trip to Rebel Donut the next time your sweet tooth gets the better of you!

 

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Surfing (and occasionally eating) Pavement in New Mexico + 8 Tips for Beginners

Insights from a “forty-something” rookie skateboarder…

This is a story about longboard skateboarding and some things I’ve learned about it over the last year. Before I jump into the skateboarding part though, I need to share a little back story about why, at age 48, I feel the need risk broken bones and road rash to careen down the hills east of Sandia Mountain in New Mexico.

Around February 2007, I was living in the Florida Panhandle when a friend of mine invited me to come out to the beach and try something called “standup paddleboard surfing.” Using a borrowed wetsuit and a borrowed 11’ Nash paddleboard and paddle, I attempted to paddle out into a churning surf that looked like it was being created by a giant washing machine agitator. It was one of the most exhausting hours of “fun” I’d ever experienced. Even though I didn’t come close to catching a wave, or even standing up for that matter, I was hooked. A month later I bought my own paddleboard. By that summer, I was at the beach constantly. On days with good surf, I would go out and catch waves. On flat days, I’d paddle up and down the beach, watching the assortment of sea life below my board: jellyfish, pompano, and even the occasional green sea turtle or Atlantic bottlenose dolphin. Life was good.

Eventually, around 2009, I bought a 9’ longboard and started to learn to “prone-paddle” surf, the more traditional surfing style. Learning to “pop-up” from a prone position after being a paddleboarder was a steep learning curve, but I eventually became competent at it. (Notice I didn’t say “mastered” it. I never really mastered it.)

Shortly after I bought the longboard, circumstances in my life changed and I left Florida. I sold off the paddleboard, but (thankfully) I hung onto my longboard. In 2012, after a couple years of living inland and not surfing at all, I jumped at an opportunity to move to Southern California. Even though I only lived in Ventura County for a year, it was good to be back to surfing again. I missed my paddleboard, but I was grateful to be back in the water. I have some great memories of early morning surfing at Mondos Beach and playing tag with the sea lions.

Surf day at Faria Beach, CA. February 2013
Surf day at Faria Beach, CA. February 2013

But job changes and life changes happened again, and today I find myself living near Albuquerque, New Mexico. My surfboard still hangs in the garage; I didn’t have the heart to sell it. Last Christmas, knowing that a move to New Mexico could be coming, my awesome girlfriend bought me a Sector 9 longboard skateboard. From the first time I took it out, I knew it would make for a suitable substitute for surfing, as well as be a great way for me to keep my balancing skill sharp for the northern New Mexico ski and snowboard seasons I might soon be enjoying.

I’ve always been a minor-league adrenaline junkie. Personally, if there’s not a small chance I’m going to hurt myself, then it’s probably not something I’ll enjoy all that much. Arguably, skateboarding is a young person’s sport. Like a lot of other sports that involve balance and wheels turning quickly over the earth’s surface, it’s not a matter of if you’ll crash, but when. And let’s face it, 18-year-olds heal a lot faster than 48-year-olds, plus they have that sense of invincibility that makes them more prone to push limits, whereas those of us who’ve seen a lot more sunrises tend to be a bit more conservative. With that thought in mind, I think someone in their late-forties or even older is more than capable of taking up skateboarding. The key to not winding up in the emergency room is knowing…and respecting…your own limitations. With that said, here are a few tips I’d offer a new skateboarder of any age.

1.  Get out there and skate!

Conventional wisdom probably says I should hound you about safety gear first and foremost. And yes, safety gear is important, but I’m going to talk about that later. What I really want to stress here is that you’ll never be good at anything unless you get out there and do it…a lot. With a skateboard, the more you ride it, the more it becomes an extension of your body. Most of what you learn when you ride a skateboard comes through trial and error. The more you ride, the more you can sense when you’re going too fast, when you’re turning too deep, or when you’re about to lose control. There’s a lot going on below your feet when you’re riding. The more time you have feeling the board beneath your feet, the less likely things will surprise you and send you sprawling across the pavement.

2.  Wear protective gear.

Speaking of sprawling across the pavement, at some point it’s probably going to happen, so it’s always a good idea to wear protective gear. At a minimum, wear a helmet. I usually roll with a helmet and some leather gloves. When I get to the point where I’m rolling at higher speeds and doing big downhill runs, I will eventually wear knee and elbow pads and slide gloves. Wearing a helmet is crucial, because you can strike your head pretty hard even at a low-speed crash.

Case in point, I was out with my girlfriend (Zia) and her eight year-old daughter (Little Coyote) a couple of months ago, skating on a short hill near my home. I was wearing my helmet mostly just to set a good example for Little Coyote. Normally I wouldn’t have been wearing one on this particular hill. I was practicing some deep turns at a low speed when I over-skidded on the toe-side and stumbled, falling over backwards. I was barely moving with any speed, but the back of my head struck the pavement hard. Had I not been wearing a helmet, I definitely would have split the back of my head open, and probably even had a concussion. After that incident, I ALWAYS wear a helmet now. Also, as I become more confident in my riding and start digging deeper into turns at greater speeds, the more likely I am to take a spill, especially on my heel-side (backwards). Instinct is always to stick a hand out there to break your fall. Leather gloves won’t save your wrists when this happens, but it will help prevent a painful road rash on the palm of your hand.

All too common "road rash." Wear gloves...or don't fall. Either way is good for your skin.
All too common “road rash.” Wear gloves…or don’t fall. Either way is good for your skin.

 

3. Learn about your skateboard and its parts.

I had a couple of skateboards in the 70’s when I was a kid. I even had one that my dad helped me make by cutting the wheels and mounts off a pair of roller skates and bolting them to a piece of pine board. Skateboard technology, especially with wheels, has come along light-years since then. There are specific board setups for all different kinds of riding, whether you plan to carve up the ramps at a skateboard park, freestyle ride down gentle slopes, or bomb big hills. Take some time to research the type of riding you want to do. YouTube is a great source of information. For me, the original wheels that came on my board were great for standard freestyle riding, soft and grippy. But I wanted to learn to control my speed more by sliding the wheels, and I found out that the wheels I had were the wrong durometer for sliding. Watching skateboard wheel reviews on YouTube helped immensely when it came to finding the right wheels for the type riding I wanted to do. (Also, big credit to Skate City Supply in Albuquerque!  They not only sold me some awesome wheels, but they showed me how to change them out as well.) There’s a lot to know and learn about skate wheels. Check out this very cool and very informative Skate Wheel Infographic!

My current wheel of choice: Sector 9 Butterball, Durometer 80
My current wheel of choice: Sector 9 Butterball, Durometer 80

 

4. Know your limits, but don’t be afraid to push them.

Like surfing, skateboarding should be all about having fun. Do what’s fun for you…always! For me, the fun comes with learning new skills and riding that fine line between exhilaration and terror. (Exhilaration: a controlled, fast descent down a long, gentle hill. Terror: Way too fast, “speed wobbles,” and a fast approaching STOP sign with cross-traffic. I’ve experienced both!) On a skateboard, it’s very easy to find yourself in over your head before you even realized it’s happened. Most of the time, it’s because you’ve reached a speed that surpasses your abilities to slow down or stop. If the “want” to stop becomes a “need” to stop, then your short list of options is just basically choosing the least painful way to “eat it.” To avoid this situation (even though it is chocked full of valuable lessons), here’s some sage advice.

5. Learn to stop.

It’s not as easy as it sounds. There are several methods and they all have two things in common. They all entail applying friction to the road surface, and they all take practice to master. Here’s a link to a great YouTube video that helped me out a lot:

6. Don’t skate faster than you can sprint.

Sometimes, the best way out of a bad situation (before it becomes a terrible situation) is to simply jump off the board. If you’re pointed downhill and you feel like you’re picking up speed too fast, jump off. Your legs will automatically try and accommodate for the speed. If you’re traveling faster than your legs can carry you, then you’re going to meet the street. However, as long as you are traveling less than your sprint speed, what normally happens is you step off and run 4-5 steps to slow your momentum. Your skateboard will stop in place once you bail out, because your foot will kick it backwards as you leave the board (pretty sure there’s some physics law happening there…). The important thing to remember is if you’re in doubt, just bail out. There’s usually about a half-second between “Hey I should jump off,” and “Oh crap! I’m going way too fast to jump off now.”

7. Know the surface you’re skating.

As I’m walking up a hill I plan to ride, I watch the surface for things like loose gravel, extra-wide cracks in the road, grass growing in the middle of the road, coyote poop, basically anything I want to avoid on my way down. Skateboard wheels today are made of high-tech urethane and can pretty much handle anything they roll over (not like the 1970’s, where a single pebble would stop your board instantly and launch you into a low-trajectory orbit). Regardless, hitting gravel or a clump of grass in the middle of a deep, sliding turn can make your board do some crazy things. It’s best to know what lies ahead before you get there.

8. Forego the headphones.

I admit, it looks cool to cruise down the road on your longboard listening to your favorite tunes on your iPod. However, the reality is I usually hear a car before I see it. Maximize use of all your senses when you ride.

Rediscovering skateboarding as an adult has been an incredible experience. I wish I had taken it up years ago, even though most of the places I’ve lived (like the Florida panhandle) weren’t really conducive to longboarding. Regardless, I’d recommend it to anyone willing to give it a try. On a parting note, next spring I’m going to start incorporating “paddling” back into my game!

Until next time, get out there and stop acting your age!

Go have some fun!
Go have some fun!

Bandelier Cliff Dwellings & Valles Caldera

Dwelling in the Cliffs — Our daytrip to Bandelier National Monument and Valles Caldera

In order to keep from moving up a weight class (or two), Team EatingNewMexico decided to take Labor Day weekend off from our culinary exploits and get in some much needed hiking. We chose to brave the crowds and drive to Bandelier National Monument, a beautiful, federally protected preserve about two hours north of Albuquerque. Bandelier is famous for the cliff dwellings, village ruins, petroglyphs, kivas, and other artifacts of the Ancestral Pueblo people, who occupied the area approximately 500-900 years ago.

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If you’ve been to Bandelier in the past, but it’s been a while, you should know that the rules have changed when it comes to driving and parking at the monument. Unless you’re an early bird (arriving before 9:00 a.m.) or a late-comer (arriving after 3:00 p.m.), you won’t be allowed to drive yourself to the park. Visitors arriving between 9:00 and 3:00 have to park in the town of White Rock and take the shuttle bus into Bandelier. White Rock is about 12 miles away from the park entrance, and the bus ride takes around 20-25 minutes.

The Visitor’s Center and shuttle bus terminal in White Rock were well marked and very easy to find. We arrived in White Rock around 10:30 AM, and in spite of the Labor Day crowds, there was ample parking available. The Visitor’s Center had a helpful and friendly staff, and clean restrooms. There was a shuttle leaving every 20 minutes, so we had plenty of time to hit the restroom, change into our hiking boots, and liberally apply sunscreen before we jumped on the bus.

Since it was Labor Day weekend, the park was crowded and the full-sized buses filled up to “standing room only” very quickly. Upon boarding the bus, the driver informed us that there would be two stops. The first stop would be at the Frey Trailhead / Juniper Campground, which would allow visitors to make a 1.5 mile hike to the Bandelier Visitor’s Center along a well-marked trail. The second stop would be at the Visitor’s Center, for those unwilling or unable to make the hike.

When we arrived at the Frey Trailhead, we expected a mass exodus from the extremely crowded bus; however, only three people chose to make the hike: me, Zia, and Zia’s eight year-old daughter. We thought that was a little odd, but at the same time enjoyed a bit of self-righteousness at being the only ones who dared to hike in rather than be bussed in…or did everyone else know something that we didn’t???

The Frey Trail

As it turns out, leaving the bus to hike in via the Frey Trail was a great idea. The trail is well marked and provides good, even footing. The only significant terrain is over the last half-mile, as the trail descends through a series of switchbacks into the valley floor where the Visitor’s Center and old Tyuonyi (Que-WEH-nee) Pueblo ruins are located. During the descent, we were rewarded with a beautiful view of the valley floor and the surrounding high ground. We felt very fortunate that we had this view and experience all to ourselves, as we were the sole hikers on the trail.

Looking down at Frijole Canyon
Looking down from Frey Trail on Frijoles Canyon and Tyuonyi (Que-weh-nee) Pueblo Ruins.

Bandelier Visitor’s Center

The hike in from the Frey Trailhead left us feeling a little hot and parched (we did pack along some water bottles, but we were ready for something a little colder, preferably something with bubbles poured over ice, like, preferably a Dr. Pepper). The Visitor’s Center at Bandelier offered us a short hiatus from the hot sun. There were restrooms, air conditioning, and a friendly staff on hand ready to answer our questions. We paid our park fee ($12 per car, or since we didn’t have a car, per “group of people that would fit in a car”) with a credit card, but in order to purchase a village map ($1), we needed cash. Neither of us had any cash, but the staff was happy to provide us with a “Loaner Map,” which we returned at the end of our visit.

Adjacent to the Visitor’s Center is a Gift Shop and Snack Bar. The snack bar offers an ok variety of pre- and post-hike fare. There are trail mixes, candy, chips, beverages (bottled and fountain), as well as some over-the-counter cooked foods like hot dogs! (They’re “Nathan’s” hot dogs, too. And yes, we shared one!) Even though we had packed along our own water and trail mixes for the hike, the Visitor’s Center Snack Bar was a nice respite from the heat, and it allowed us to recharge from the hike in.

Next, we set off on the Main Loop Trail, a paved 1.2-mile roundtrip route that leads to the Tyuonyi ruins, the cliff dwellings, the Long House, and eventually on to another trail, which leads to the Alcove House site.

The map we borrowed proved very useful. Each feature along the trail is marked with a wooden numbered marker, and you can open your map to the corresponding number and read a description and history of what you’re seeing. I highly recommending purchasing or borrowing a map for touring the area.

The Sites

Tyuonyi Pueblo Ruins, Bandelier National Monument
The first major site you come to on the Main Loop Trail is the Tyuonyi Pueblo Ruins.

The first major site along the Main Loop Trail is the Tyuonyi Pueblo Ruins. Passing through this village, it’s easy to let your mind travel back in time to the 12th and 13th century when this Ancestral Pueblo community thrived. According to the map/guidebook, these ruins were once called “Anasazi” ruins, but the name was changed to “Ancestral Pueblo” because Anasazi actually translates to “Ancient Enemy.” The Tyuonyi ruins are laid out in a circle, and once stood 2-3 stories tall. The rooms themselves are very small — each only slightly larger than a king-size bed, and were probably mostly used to store food and supplies. In the center of the circle were 3 kivas (underground pit structures used for religious ceremonies, teaching, and other community functions). One of the kivas has been excavated and maintained while the other two are only slightly visible as indentations in the ground.

Even though there were a lot of visitors while we were there, the trail system throughout the valley is large enough to keep the crowd thinned out. The only place we were near other sightseers was at the cliff dwellings themselves, where there was usually a short queue waiting to ascend one of the ladders and explore the inside of the dwellings.

Little Coyote (Zia's daughter) climbs up into a cavate.
Little Coyote (Zia’s daughter) climbs up into a cavate.

The cliffs in this area (the Pajarito Plateau) are actually hardened volcanic ash (called “tuff”) deposited over a million years ago during a massive volcanic explosion in the nearby mountains. Over time, wind and rain eroded the softer areas of the tuff, creating holes and caverns. The Pueblo people used hand tools to carve out the holes for their dwellings. These are called cavates (CAVE-eights). In some cases, small mud brick structures were built in front of the cavate openings to expand the dwelling.

Cliff Dwellings at Bandelier National Monument
Cliff Dwellings and Cave Painting at Bandelier National Monument

From the outside, we could see many of the centuries-old petroglyphs carved into walls. In the photo above, you can see a cave wall painting that was uncovered during excavation of one of the dwellings. The painting looked like a zig-zag pattern in red and brown hues. On the broad wall of the cliff, we spotted faces, turkeys, suns, and other various petroglyphs. The horizontal rows of smaller holes show where floors & ceilings were located.

Cliff Dwellings at Bandelier National Monument
Cliff Dwellings at Bandelier National Monument. Known as The Long House, this area is a long row of dwellings, some of which were multiple stories tall, and some of which showed evidence of mud brick expansions.

 

Bandelier Cliff Dwellings New Mexico
Bandelier Cliff Dwellings. Petroglyphs are present though hard to make out here. Horizontal lines of smaller shows show evidence of multiple floors. Stone wall ruins in foreground show evidence of expansion.

 

Beyond Long House is a fork in the road. You can either turn left and go back to the Visitor’s Center or turn right and walk about 1/2 mile to the Alcove House. The Alcove House is a large, open cave (aka an alcove!) in the cliff about 140 feet above the valley floor. The trail to Alcove House wanders along the Frijoles Creek basin. It’s well shaded by the trees and offers a nice break from the hot sun alongside the cliff dwellings. To enter the alcove, you ascend a series of narrow stairs carved into the cliff and four well-worn (but plenty sturdy) wooden ladders. While this is nowhere near as scary as it sounds, people with a fear of heights could experience some anxiety about the climb and the descent. However, the view from the alcove is worth the climb.

Frijoles Creek Bandelier
Frijoles Creek, small but lovely (and lots of shade) – Cliff Dwellings in the background

 

Alcove House notice, Bandelier
Alcove House notice, Bandelier: beware!

 

Alcove House Bandelier Going Up
Going Up! Stairway toward Alcove House.
Alcove House, Bandelier
Alcove House from the top of the final ladder. Shade!

 

 

Alcove House Bandelier
Alcove House. Consists of a large alcove, a refurbished (and closed-off) ceremonial Kiva, and a few small caves. Gorgeous views out to Frijoles Canyon.

 

Down from the Alcove
Going Down! Descending from Alcove House

 

Overall, we spent about three hours in the valley. After we felt like we’d seen all there was to see (without setting off on a whole new hike), we walked about a mile back to the Visitor’s Center and had another run on the Snack Bar. Here, we decided to hop a bus back to White Rock rather than hike (UP) the Frey Trail back out. We wanted to save some daylight for our next stop…the Valles Caldera!

NOTE: There are many other things to see at Bandelier — other ruins, dwellings, and cave paintings — plus many other long and short trails. See their website for a full list of trails and things to see. Bandelier National Monument – More Info

Valles Caldera

About 30 minutes west of White Rock along Highway 4 is one of the most breathtaking sights I’ve seen in New Mexico, the Valle Grande of the Valles Calder, a 13.7 mile wide volcanic caldera in the Jemez Mountains. (http://www.vallescaldera.gov/) The caldera was formed over a million years ago when the magma chamber of a volcano collapses in on itself after eruption, forming a bowl-shaped (or cauldron, “caldera” shaped) indention. There are areas within the caldera where magma is less than five miles below your feet.

Sadly, since this was a day trip and we still had to drive back to Albuquerque, we didn’t have a lot of time to explore the caldera. We did venture into the Valle Grande by car and we stopped by the visitor’s center to check it out. According to their website, the Valles Caldera offers an array of activities throughout the year, to include horseback riding, fly fishing, mountain biking, and cross-country skiing, just to name a few. I’m sure we will be visiting here again in the future.

Valles Caldera New Mexico
Looking out across the Valles Caldera from Hwy 4. The caldera’s resident elk herds were nowhere to be seen this day.
Valle Grande, Valles Caldera, Bandelier
Looking out across Valle Grande, Valles Caldera, from Hwy 4 pull-off.

 

 

About the Valle Grande
About the Valle Grande

 

Culinary Adventures…

…or lack thereof. Like I said in the beginning, this was never meant to be an eating adventure. While we entertained some great ideas about stopping for dinner in Santa Fe on the way home, in the end, the wishes of the 8-yr-old won out, and we found ourselves enjoying some chili-cheese tots at the Los Alamos Sonic. Not our best “Eating New Mexico” moment, but hey, truth be told, those things are damn good.

Click for More Info:  Bandelier National Monument – More Info

The Beatles Lied: A review of Casa Blanca’s Fried Green Chile Strips which are, in fact, all you need.

Casa Blanca Mexican Restaurant
Ruidoso, NM

501 Mechem Drive, Ruidoso, NM | (575) 257-2495

[No website, but here’s a link to their Facebook page.]

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.]

Casa Blanca Chips & Salsa
Casa Blanca Chips & Salsa, Ruidoso NM. Worth the trip.

After placing our drink orders, we asked for two baskets of their world (probably) famous fried green chile strips.

Fried Awesomeness Dipped in Ranch
Casa Blanca’s Fried Green Chile Strips are WHY RUIDOSO EXISTS. I’m pretty sure that’s accurate.

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.

The Entrees

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.

Jalpeno BLT Casa Blanca
Jalapeno BLT at Casa Blanca in Ruidoso. Spicy/salty/bacony.

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.

Taco plate, Casa Blanca
Casa Blanca, Ruidoso, Taco Plate. “Your typical plate o’ tacos!”

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.


 

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Ruidoso, NM – Flying J Ranch

The Flying J Ranch

6 Flying J Road, 1028 State Hwy 48 | Alto, NM 88312
(575) 336-4330

A big reason for our trip to Ruidoso was to go see the Flying J Ranch (caution: this site auto-plays Western music). Zia had been there many times as a young girl growing up in New Mexico. Zia’s daughter was making her second trip to the Flying J, the first one being when she was around three years old. This was my first time.

Like the rest of Ruidoso, Flying J was enjoying the benefits of tourist season, so the ranch was pretty crowded. However, they make parking pretty organized and easy. As soon as we pulled into the lot, a cowboy was there to herd us into our parking spot.

Inside the ranch, you find a mock-up of an Old West town with souvenir shops and treats. For the kids, there’s horseback riding, gold panning, and pistol shooting — not real pistols, of course, but they make a pretty loud “pop!” Again, the ranch was pretty crowded, so the lines for the activities were long. We judged the horseback line to be too long, so Zia’s daughter got to pan for gold for a few minutes, finding one decent-sized nugget of “gold” (aka iron pyrite).

The line for the pistol shooting was moving pretty good, so she jumped in line for quick three shots with an old-west style pistol! (Again, these are toys. They shoot a projectile with barely enough velocity to punch through a sheet of paper.)

After the pistol shooting, we headed over to watch the big gunfight between the town sheriff and a couple of “no-good hooligans.”

Gunfight!
The Sheriff faces down some ne’er-do-well scoundrels, Flying J Ranch Main Street.

This “gunfight” is Rated G and appropriate for all ages. It’s wrought with enough silliness and puns to keep the young ones entertained and laughing, and some cute one-liners for the adults. I won’t give you any spoilers, but it’s a good time for the whole family. After the show, the actors were more than happy to pose for pictures with some of the kids.

DINNERTIME

You’d think that feeding a couple hundred people at one sitting would be complicated, if not downright messy. However, the Flying J Ranch has been in business for 33 years, and they know how to move people through a chow line quickly and efficiently. When I saw the number of people crowding into the dining area, I thought it would take forever – and a miracle – to get everyone fed, but we were happily filling our bellies with a delicious, chuck-wagon style meal within about 10 minutes of getting to our seats.

They file you out of the dining hall and into the kitchen by tables, after first giving you exact instructions on what to do at each food station, and even how to hold your plate! (Hold it under the spot where the applesauce goes, because it’s a metal plate and the applesauce is the only cold food you’re getting.)

You then file through the kitchen, stopping at each station for a heaping helping of each item.  The food fare is pretty simple, and the Flying J Ranch website gives you a detailed description of what the meal offers, including what is and isn’t “authentic” cowboy fare (SUPPER DETAILS). What you get is pinto beans, chunky applesauce, a baked potato, brisket or chicken, a biscuit, and spice cake. Then you choose from iced tea, lemonade, water, or coffee to drink. (Served in an authentic beat-up old tin cup, just like the cowboys used!)

Flying J Chuckwagon Supper
Chuckwagon Supper at the Flying J Ranch. All a growing cowboy or cowgirl needs!

The only food item I can’t really write about is the BBQ grilled chicken. All five of us opted for the brisket. Also, it’s kind of a waste of time to go line by line on each food item, when two words describe them all: absolutely delicious! Nonetheless, I will give you a brief rundown. The brisket was tender, smoky and tasty; you could cut it with just a fork. The beans were excellent, and surprisingly spicy. The chunky applesauce…wow. I’m not an applesauce fan, at least not of the stuff you buy in a jar at the grocery store. The Flying J’s applesauce was like a dessert, with big chunks of sweet apples. Lastly, the potato, biscuit, and spice cake were all equally good and nicely rounded out the meal. Oh, and come hungry! There were plenty of leftovers, and you were free to return to the line for more food. I’m pretty sure the crowd ran out of room before the Flying J kitchen ran out of food.

After dinner, the Flying J cast (the same people that just spooned your food onto your tin plate) gathers on stage for about an hour long western music show. Western style music may not be your thing, but if you appreciate good showmanship, incredible musical talent, bean jokes, puns, and a little musical comedy, you’ll enjoy watching the Flying J cast perform. It’s a really nice way to sit and relax after a good hearty meal. There’s music and comedy, and even a heartfelt salute to our servicemen, servicewomen, and veterans.

Good people, good food, and fine entertainment for the whole family, the Flying J Ranch is something you must do if you’re in the Ruidoso area.

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Ruidoso, NM – Fun Family Weekend Getaway

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Ruidoso Quick Trip

The first weekend in August, we made a family trip from Albuquerque to Ruidoso. Five of us (me, Zia, Zia’s daughter, & Zia’s parents) all piled into our Ford Edge for a meandering, four-hour adventure into the mountains of southern New Mexico. We traveled the back roads through a variety of terrain, ranging from flat pasture land to rolling, rocky hills. We drove through little towns like Moriarty, Estancia, Corona, Carrizozo, and Capitan. Along the way, we spotted pronghorn antelope, a herd of elk, and a whole lot of cows.

Pastureland New Mexico
New Mexico road: somewhere between Carrizozo and Estancia.

We took this trip for the change of scenery, as well as to give Zia’s folks the opportunity to visit their old stomping grounds. They were Ruidoso residents for about nine years.

Also, we had booked a trip to the Flying J Ranch, a very popular Ruidoso tourist attraction. (Note: their website auto-plays music, so be prepared. But there’s an easy “turn off music” button on the main page.)

Zia’s dad, a lifelong New Mexico resident and alumni of Hatch High School, had a story for almost every little town we drove through. Find some of his tales here: Stories | Histories

One place we stopped was the small town of Carrizozo, specifically to see if the sad rumors were true: the Outpost Bar & Grill (& Laundromat) was closed. Unfortunately, the rumors were true, and it seems this place has been closed for quite some time.

Outpost Bar & Grill, Carrizozo, NM
Outpost Bar & Grill & Laundromat. Once the best green chile cheeseburger south of North Dakota.

After some sleuthing around, we think we found out why the place is closed down. Could it have something to do with the chile?

Ho-made chili at Outpost Bar & Grill
Hey, we’re not here to judge.

Peeking through the windows, we could see that many of the animal “trophies” (aka, “stuffed animal heads” still strewn about in the booths. Kind of creepy, actually. We said our final farewells to Outpost and went on our way toward Ruidoso.

If you’re a regular reader of our EatingNewMexico blog, you know Zia and I had other motivations for going to Ruidoso…the food! This was my second trip to Ruidoso. The first time I went, Zia took me to Casa Blanca, a restaurant known for their fried green chile strips.

Casa Blanca Ruidoso, Fried Green Chile Strips
Fried Green Chile Strips, served with ranch dressing, naturally! Reason enough to come to Ruidoso.

I couldn’t wait to get back there and get another basket of those hot little strips of awesome, dipped in ranch dressing. I lobbied hard for Casa Blanca to be the first place we stopped as soon as we arrived into town. Fortunately, it’s not all that hard to get a carload of hungry New Mexicans to stop for fried green chile strips.

Click here for the review of Casa Blanca Restaurant

After lunch, we all piled back into the car to head down to Sudderth Drive. Sudderth is Ruidoso’s “downtown.” It’s about a half-mile stretch of road with shops, restaurants and bars. On this particular Saturday, it was very crowded. The sidewalks were full of pedestrians meandering in and out of the stores, and the streets were packed with cars. Almost every license plate I saw said “Texas.” I noticed quite a few Chihuahua, Mexico license plates as well. Seeing a yellow or turquoise New Mexico license plate was a rarity. Even our car was still sporting the old California tags, so even we could not be mistaken for locals! However, I don’t think anyone was mistaking us for Texans, either. We looked a little out of place without our giant belt buckles, cowboy boots, “fixed” hair, and bedazzled jeans.

Zia’s daughter is a horseback rider. So we thought she would love to go out by Ruidoso Downs and see the beautiful horse sculptures there. The statue garden, titled “Free Spirits at Noisy Water” marks the entryway to the Hubbard Museum of the American West, a museum dedicated to the horse and all things Old West. The horses are larger-than-life and extremely realistic, giving the impression of a herd of horses — Arabians, Paints, Appaloosa, Quarter, Morgan, and Standardbred all running together — charging down the mountainside toward the river.

Two horses race down the mountainside
Free Spirit at Noisy Waters, Ruidoso’s Hubbard Museum of the American West.
White Horse on the Run
Arabian Horse, Free Spirits at Noisy Water, Hubbard Museum of the American West, Ruidoso, NM

We walked around the statue garden for a while, studying the bronze statues (many a wonder of engineering, balancing on only one hoof) and reading the informational placards about each breed of horse.

After we walked off our lunch, it was time to go and rest up for the big evening at the Flying J Ranch. We had booked a couple of rooms at the Ruidoso Mountain Inn. I won’t go into a full-blown review of the Inn, other than to say the upside was a clean, comfortable room, but the downside was the inflated, tourist season price ($160/night), and the television reception was terrible, which made “Sharknado 2” even harder to watch. Regardless, after a four-hour road trip, followed by lunch and shopping, it was nice to put our feet up for a couple of hours before we all headed out to the Flying J Ranch.

Click here for the review of the Flying J Ranch

After dinner and the show at Flying J, it was back to the Ruidoso Mountain Inn for a good night’s sleep. The next morning, we passed on the Inn’s complimentary breakfast. The breakfast area was extremely crowded, and from what we could see of the pre-packaged, carbohydrate-laden foods, it wasn’t worth the wait. Instead, we drove out to the Casino Apache Travel Center for a good, but standard-fare breakfast. Pros for this little café were: food is good, price is low, and there was no wait when we got there. Cons for this little café were: it’s at the back of the casino, so you have to walk through a lot of smoke to get there.

Travel Center French Toast
Casino Apache Travel Center Cafe. Zia Jr. with her French Toast Platter. Extra sugar, please!

Afterwards, we took a quick trip back into Ruidoso for some coffee at Sacred Grounds. Good coffee, but very slow service. In their defense, it was very busy! With that, we were back on the road to Albuquerque.

Our Ruidoso weekend was a kind of a whirlwind excursion, and probably not the best time of year; but all told, it was a great little weekend getaway with the family and well worth the trip.


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.

 

O’Niell’s Pub – Albuquerque – Pub Food, Upgraded

NOTE: We were there to eat, not drink, so this review focuses on the food & service at mid-day on a Friday.

WHERE IT’S AT:

O’Niell’s is located in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill neighborhood, on the southwest corner of Central and Washington. They have a nice-sized parking lot behind their building, so parking was easy. Granted, we were there at 2:00 pm on a Friday. Maybe it fills up at typical “bar times.”

Normally, if I walk into a place called a “pub” with the purpose of having a meal, I set my expectations about the food pretty low. I’ve come to expect “typical or standard barroom fare,” to mean “a lot of salt and a lot of fat,” things primarily designed to get you to order more beer or cocktails.

So, this was my expectation when ZIA and I walked into O’Niell’s last Friday to attend a going-away luncheon for a co-worker.

My first impression of O’Niell’s was how clean, open, and well-lit it was. We were immediately greeted and directed to where our party was seated, outside on the patio. O’Niell’s is, true to its name, a “pub” first and foremost. The bar is impressive, almost completely taking up one side of the restaurant. The seating is open table, with no partitions between tables. Although it wasn’t very crowded when I came in, I could see this place getting very noisy with a large crowd.

We didn’t have to wait long for our waitress to arrive and take our drink orders. I wish I could remember our waitress’s name, because she was awesome — fast and friendly.

THE FOOD:

And now for the best part…the food! I ordered the “Irish Cuban,” a Cuban sandwich with the addition of corned beef to give it that “Irish” twist. Let me be clear, they don’t substitute the pulled-pork for corned beef; they ADD the corned beef, along with slaw, pickles and mustard, and the results are mouth-watering. I would come back here just to have another one of these sandwiches! O’Niell’s offers a great variety of side-dishes, and I chose the fries. The fries were good, but nothing exceptional. This was the one thing that was definitely just “barroom fare.”

O'Niell's Irish Cuban Sandwich -- it was awesome!
O’Niell’s Irish Cuban Sandwich — it was awesome!

Zia ordered the St. Patty Melt, a seasoned ground beef burger with sautéed onions and Swiss cheese on grilled rye bread. This sandwich was also good, and that’s coming from me, a guy who hates rye bread! There’s something about caraway seeds that are like Kryptonite to me. But this rye bread was very light, not overpowering. She also ordered the coleslaw as a side dish. It was the same mayo-based slaw that was on my Irish Cuban. It was very good, coarse cut and delicious.

ZIA SAYS: The St. Patty Melt was good, but nothing unique or memorable. It was like any other patty melt pretty much anywhere. The cole slaw was very good.

O'Niell's St. Patty Melt, it was OK
O’Niell’s St. Patty Melt, it was OK

For dessert, we shared a slice of Irish Cream cheesecake. For me, as I’m sure it is with most people, it’s almost impossible to not love cheesecake. This was no exception. It had a graham cracker crust and was served with three ample dollops of whipped cream. The Irish Cream flavor was too subtle, but overall it was good end to the meal.

Irish Cream Cheesecake
O’Niell’s Irish Cream Cheesecake — it was good but not Irish enough.

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT:

My only suggestion would be to install some misters out on the patio for hot days. Otherwise, this was a great dining experience and I would recommend O’Niell’s to my friends.


For more info, visit: oniells.com/