Smithsonian Article on Oklahoma City’s Little Saigon

The March 2016 issue of the Smithsonian Magazine has a very interesting article on Oklahoma City’s Vietnamese community, with an emphasis on the Vietnamese food served in Oklahoma City’s “Little Saigon.”  The area around Classen Boulevard between N.W. 23rd Street and N.W. 34th is officially called the Asian District, but the Smithsonian article correctly points out how the Vietnamese refugee community was instrumental in founding it and turning it into the attraction it has become today.

One idea set forth in the article is that the Asian people have a food culture.  A quote in the article by the owner of Super Cao Nguyen Market is illustrative of this point:

We’re all big foodies.  We eat, sleep, dream food.  When some customer comes to us with an idea for some product we should carry, the first thought that pops into our head is, “That sounds delicious.”

In other words, the people behind the good Asian restaurants and supermarkets work hard to make it that way, and this comes from a very strong attention to food that may even range to an obsession with it.

Another very interesting point in the article is how Vietnamese chefs are at the forefront of innovation in developing Asian fusion cuisine and constantly trying to re-invent what Vietnamese cuisine itself should mean, at least as it exists in America.  I had already seen the fusion aspect of it in restaurants like Monsoon in Seattle, and now it is taking hold in Oklahoma City in restaurants such as Guernsey Park.  Chef Vuong Nguyen of Guernsey Park has now moved on to open Bonjour, a restaurant that is not Vietnamese but which obviously has a Vietnamese influence along with the French fusion typically found in it.

I like the direction Vietnamese cuisine is taking, because rather than trying to Americanize the food they are keeping the authentic cuisine and adding fusion concepts to it.  This is in contrast to Chinese food, which was so Americanized when most of us were growing up that I have a hard time every trying to describe to people what authentic Chinese cuisine is supposed to be.  I think Chinese restaurants are now following the Vietnamese pattern though–you can get the authentic version, the Americanized version (there is a little bit of Americanization in some Vietnamese food also), or the fusion version (I have not seen much of this in Chinese food but I know it exists).

I have tried to develop some ideas from the article that I think are important to what I am doing on this blog.  People may or may not want to get a copy of the Smithsonian magazine for the article, but I think it is a good read and worthwhile if you can find the March issue.

One subject mentioned in the article is that some chefs from Oklahoma City are thinking about moving to other cities, and maybe even doing a stint in Vietnam to learn some of the finer points of Vietnamese cuisine.  If (and more probably when) this happens, some cities will likely see major upgrades in the variety and quality of the Vietnamese cuisine being served.

El Paso Mexican Restaurants 1980

This list is presented for anyone who is interested in the Mexican restaurants which were in El Paso in 1980.  It grew out of a project I did to write down a list of all the Mexican restaurants from the telephone directory and then to make notes about the ones I tried.

Although the list was strictly for my own benefit, I think it might be of some historical use today.  It certainly provides a clue about the longest running restaurants in the city, since very few of the restaurants which were open in 1980 survive today.

These restaurants were listed under the “Mexican restaurants” section in the telephone directory. I believe that it is not a complete list of all the Mexican restaurants which existed, but it is at least 80 to 90 percent complete.

Many restaurants served the style of food I call “El Paso” style. This is a modification of New Mexican cuisine (the enchiladas are similar) combined with Chihuahua style Mexican food (such as tacos, chicken mole, caldo de res, and breakfast dishes, to name a few).

Looking back, I think I rated some of the restaurants too low, but this was mainly due to having very high expectations (and at some restaurants I may have tried the wrong thing).

The restaurants I visited are in bold.  All others were simply copied from the phone book to give me possible places to try.

RATING RESTAURANT ADDRESS PRICES COMMENTS
EL PASO
Acapulco 219 S. El Paso
Alberto’s 109 Castellano
star 3 Alexandro’s 309 E. Overland Cheap
Alexandro’s II 7720 North Loop
star 2 Arnold’s 2030 E. Yandell Mod
Bernadette’s 412 E. San Antonio
Burger Boy 5500 El Paso Dr.
Caballero 6400 Montana
star 2 Carmen’s Cafe 8257 Alameda
star 4 Casa Calderon 8450 Alameda Mod
star 4 Casa Jurado 226 Cincinnati Mod
star 2 Chicken Fiesta 3701 Montana Mod
Chico’s Tacos 4230 Alameda
star 2 Chico’s Tacos 5305 Montana Cheap
star 2 Chico’s Tacos 3401 Dyer Cheap
star 1 Chico’s Tacos 1235 McRae Cheap
Ciro’s Flautas 3203 Alameda
star 4 Cocina Arrambide 5908 Alameda Mod Also known as “Pepa’s”
Conchita’s 6933 Alameda
Coney Island 4121 N. Mesa
star 1 Del Camino 5001 Alameda Exp
Delicious Mexican Food 3314 Fort Blvd.
star 3 El Abajeno 9639 Dyer Mod
El Carioca 2104 E. Yandell
El Conquistador 4950B Hondo Pass
El Delfin 4822 Montana
star 3 Elmer’s 6305 Montana Mod
El Nido 6932 Gateway East
El Nopal 2314 Wyoming
El Palenque 705 1/2 S. El Paso
star 3 El Paseo 1611 Montana Cheap
El Ranchito 2030 E. Paisano
El Rancho Escondido 14549 Montana
El Rapido Cafe 617 S. El Paso
El Taquito Place 909 N. San Marcial
El Zarape 819 S. El Paso
star 3 Forti’s 321 Chelsea Mod
star 3 G & R 401 E. Nevada Mod
Grandma’s Tamales 7682 Alameda
Grandma’s Tamales 6041 N. Mesa
Grandma’s Tamales 1212 Yarbrough
star 4 Griggs 5800 Doniphan Mod
star 4 Griggs 9007 Montana Mod
Hamburger Hut 3700 Alameda
Hamburger Hut 8764 Alameda
Hamburger Hut 8541 Alameda
star 1 Imperial Cafe 510 Myrtle Mod
star 2 Jasper’s 2200 Yarbrough Mod
star 3 Julio’s 1201 N. Mesa Exp
star 4 Kiki’s 2719 N. Piedras Mod
La Casita 3333 Yarbrough
La Feria 419 S. Mesa
star 4 La Hacienda 1720 W. Paisano Cheap
star 2 La Paloma 1017 Delta Cheap
star 3 La Paloma 9415 Dyer Mod
La Pastora 7705B North Loop
La Posada 307 E. Overland
Las Casuelas 1310 Magruder
La Tapatia 8941 Old County
star 2 La Terraza 315 Mills Mod
Leo’s 7872 North Loop
star 2 Leo’s 6232 N. Mesa Mod
star 3 Leo’s 5103 Montana Mod
star 1 Leo’s 5003 Alabama Mod
star 2 Leo’s 5315 Hondo Pass Mod
Leo’s 2285 Trawood
Lily’s 4315 Dyer
Linda’s Jet 6211 Airport
Los Compadres 800 N. Zaragoza
star 2 Lucky Boy 4130 Montana Cheap Also called “Beto’s”
star 2 Lunch Box 527 Giles Cheap
Lupe’s Coffee Shop 2919 Pershing
Lupe’s Rushfair Center
Lupita’s 8929 Alameda
star 3 Lupita’s 1230 Myrtle Cheap
star 1 Mexican Cottage 904 Texas Mod
Mi Amiga 501 1/2 E. 3rd
star 1 Michael’s 122 S. Mesa
Miguelito’s 1500 Lomaland
star 4 Moe’s 6298 Alameda Exp
star 2 Montezuma 211 1/2 S. Kansas
Palmera Cafe 2301 Olive
star 3 Pancho’s 5229 Sanders Mod
RB’s 3905 Broaddus
Rachel’s 2138 Cypress
Raphael’s Missouri & Kansas
star 2 Riviera 5218 Doniphan Mod
star 3 Royal 2905 Alameda Cheap
Sarita’s 5541D Alameda
Sierra’s Cafe 3027 Alameda
Sixto 7227 Alameda
Sunset Inn 4532 N. Mesa
Super Burro 5901 Dyer
Taco Burger 1414 Airway
Tampico 119 W. Paisano
star 2 Tenampa 310C S. Florence Cheap
Taquito House 915 Myrtle
star 2 Tony’s 706 N. Piedras
star 3 Victor’s 5000 Doniphan Cheap
Villa Taxco 205 S. El Paso
ANTHONY
Adrian’s Anthony
CANUTILLO
Canutillo Tortilla Factory Canutillo
SOCORRO
Old Adobe Socorro
star 4 Riverside Saloon Socorro
AREA WIDE
star 1 Taco Bell 9 Locations

 

The four-star rating system was as follows:

star 4 Very Good.
star 3 Good.
star 2 Fair.
star 1 Poor.
 

El Paso has always been the “Mexican Food Capital of the United States” even though it has only claimed this title for itself recently.  In 1980 I would say that Mexican restaurants composed the majority, or at least a good portion of all restaurants in the city.  Most of these were mom and pop restaurants with budget prices and the standard dishes found in Mexican cuisine.  Most restaurants had at least one dish which was a standout, but the ones that had at least three or four are the ones with a three or four star rating on this list.

Today El Paso has many more Mexican restaurants than existed in 1980, but I think the number would fall far short of 50% of the city’s total number of restaurants.  There are many more styles of Mexican food available than in the past, representing several Mexican states in addition to the always popular Chihuahua style cuisine.  What has not changed very much, though, is that restaurants still tend to be mom and pop establishments with fairly low prices and food which is familiar to the general population.  There are more health conscious restaurants now, and in general I think the choices are much better now than they used to be.

Some notes about individual restaurants are as follows:

  • Arnold’s served the same food as Leo’s, but was owned by a different family member.
  • Casa Jurado–a brother opened the Casa Jurado on Doniphan (which is still operating).
  • Del Camino at one time was one of the best restaurants in the city, but in 1980 it was going through severe problems that led to its closing a short time later.
  • Forti’s is largely unchanged today from the way it was in 1980, except that I think they have added some more good dishes.
  • Griggs on Doniphan was my favorite restaurant in the city.  Other Griggs family members operated La Posta in Mesilla, NM and El Pinto in Albuquerque.  However, I thought the food at Griggs was the best of the three.  The Griggs recipes are now served at Peppe’s Restaurant in Canutillo (on Doniphan Dr.)
  • La Hacienda was another favorite of mine.  Amigos Restaurant at 2000 Montana opened after La Hacienda closed, and served the food from La Hacienda.  As far as I know this food is still available.
  • La Terraza was another “Leo’s” restaurant.
  • Lupita’s on Myrtle at one time was my favorite place for lunch because they served home style Mexican plates (it changed every day, and you had very little choice about what was served, but it was so good it changed my thinking about what was “authentic” Mexican food).  By 1980 it had changed more to the standard restaurant model, though.
  • Moe’s was great, and one of its secrets was that it used lard in the food (it still had many loyal patrons until the time it closed).
  • Montezuma was known for its breakfasts, and many people picked up burritos to take to work with them.
  • Pancho’s was good in El Paso at the same time it was bad to terrible just about everywhere else.  Once I got to eat at the original Pancho’s (that was either on Alameda or Paisano), but I’m not sure if it was still open in 1980.  The original Pancho’s had the best food of any of the locations I tried.
  • Canutillo Tortilla Factory is today known as the Little Diner, and is well known on many national hole in the wall food guides.  In truth, though, the food then and now is not much different from at least a couple of dozen other restaurants that are listed here.

Oklahoma City Mexican Restaurants 1983

This list is a transcription of notes I took about Mexican restaurants in Oklahoma City in 1983.  The full list includes restaurants I copied from the telephone directory (and which were listed as “Mexican restaurants” in the yellow pages).  Star ratings are for the ones I visited.

Oklahoma City had a much greater percentage of one-star and two-star restaurants than other cities included in this series of historical posts.  In this respect I think Oklahoma City was actually representative of most cities in the United States at the time.  It had more Mexican restaurants than most cities, but to me the quality seemed much lower than in Texas and New Mexico cities.

Some of the one-star restaurants had pure Anglo style food that did not even rise to the level of the Tex-Mex served at the majority of restaurants.  There is term which is now used called “Okie-Mex,” and I think this also would describe most of the Mexican food in 1983.  I did find some restaurants on the south side (Capitol Hill) that served more authentic Mexican food, either exclusively or in addition to the Tex-Mex menu.  I remember Las Rositas as having some dishes I had found in El Paso at some of the better restaurants there.

I remember A&T Garcia’s as being the best Mexican restaurant in town, and this seemed to be a combination of California and New Mexico style Mexican food (with red and green chile used in place of the brown gravy-like “chili” used in Tex-Mex restaurants).  Mostly, though, I thought they just had better quality food.

The difference between 1983 and today for Mexican food in Oklahoma City is striking, and I would say authentic styles of food are prevalent in the central and south areas of the city.  A large number of restaurants serve Aguascalientes (Calvillo) style food, although many also offer American style dishes on the menu.  You are probably more likely to find truly authentic food if you go to a take-out restaurant, taco truck, etc. than in a sit-down restaurant where they serve you at the table.

In the lists I made for Austin and Albuquerque, I could see how the regional Mexican styles which had developed in the area (Tex-Mex and New Mexican cuisine, respectively) had seemed to make the population more accepting of authentic Mexican food which came along later.  Oklahoma City did not have its own regional style of Mexican food, but early restaurants such as El Charrito made Tex-Mex the preferred style here.

The more authentic Mexican food served in a number of restaurants now may be largely due to an influx of immigrants from Mexico, but a large number of long time residents have become fans of this food as well.  In these and other ways I think Oklahoma City is very representative of a number of U.S. cities.

My goal for this article is not only to provide nostalgia but also to allow trends to be observed about how Mexican food has changed in the U.S. over a relatively short period of time.

RATING RESTAURANT ADDRESS PRICES COMMENTS
DOWNTOWN
star 4 A&T Garcia’s 409 W. Reno Exp
Chicano’s 1203 W. Main
Chuy’s 401 W. Sheridan
Delgado’s 1135 N. Hudson
star 3 La Roca
412 S. Walker Very Exp Too expensive
Que-Pasa 100 W. Main
star 2 Yolanda’s
1021 N. Western Exp Fairly authentic
NORTHWEST
Casa Bonita 3601 NW 39
star 2 Chi-Chi’s
4239 NW Hwy Exp
star 2 Don Serapio’s
11109 N. May Exp
El Chico 2226 N. Bdwy
star 1 El Chico 2909 Paseo Exp
El Chico Villa Prom
star 1 El Chico 6014 N. May Exp
star 1 El Fenix Quail Spgs Mall Very Exp
El Zocalo 4600 W. Reno
star 1 JC Garcia’s 3000 W. Britton Rd. Exp
star 2 Las Chalupas
825 NW 23rd Mod
star 2 Last Cafe of San Jose
2625 W. Britton Rd. Exp Too expensive
star 3 Monterey House
4533 NW 39th Mod
star 1 Nino’s 6509 NW Hwy Exp
Papagayo’s 12100 N. May
star 3 Taco Palace
4200 NW 39th Mod
CAPITOL HILL
Chi-Chi’s 1024 SW 74th
El Chico Esplanade Shopping Center
El Rancho Sanchez 5804 S. Western
star 2 El Chalan 3325 S. Robinson Mod
La Roca 948 SW 36th
star 3 La Roca
333 SE 29th Mod  Changed to Mino’s
star 3 Las Rositas
2608 S. May Mod
Los Tacos 1311 SW 44th
Los Trillo 2608 S. Robinson
star 3 Mi Tierra Cafe
1412 S. Walker Mod Open weekends only
Monterey House 705 SW 59th
star 2 Ninos 7220 S. Walker Exp
Ninos 5425 S. Penn
star 3 Pablo’s
1408 SE 15th Exp Too expensive
Pancho’s 5733 S. Western
Pizarro’s 2908 SW 59th  Out of business
Tacoville 3502 Newcastle Rd.
MIDWEST CITY & DEL CITY
Casa de Zamudio 6308 E. Reno
Chi-Chi’s 6100 Tinker Diagonal
Del Taco 4320 SE 15th
El Chico Heritage Park Mall
Hacienda Hernandez 4733 SE 29th
Hernandos 11211 NE 23rd
Pancho’s 1224 S. Air Depot
EDMOND
star 1 Acapulco 400 S. Bryant Mod
star 1 Pepe’s 1701 S. Broadway Mod
MOORE
La Roca 111 S. Broadway
Moore’s Little Mexico 1743 N. Broadway
NORMAN
Border Crossing 606 W. Main
star 1 El Palacio
120 E. Main Mod
Johnny’s Mex Food 1118 N. Berry
Taco Fiesta 2110 W. Lindsey
Zamudios 428 W. Robinson
YUKON
star 3 Poquito de Mexico 422 W. Main Mod Enchiladas excellent. Tacos & hot sauce are lousy
TUTTLE
Cisco’s Tacos 813 Main
AREA WIDE
Taco Bell 13 locations
Taco Bueno 12 locations
Taco Mayo 5 locations
Taco Tico 5 locations

 

The four-star rating system was as follows:

star 4 Very Good.
star 3 Good.
star 2 Fair.
star 1 Poor.

Austin Mexican Restaurants 1985

This list is a transcription of notes I took about the city’s Mexican restaurants when I lived in Austin, Texas.  The full list includes restaurants I copied from the telephone directory (and which were listed as “Mexican restaurants” in the yellow pages).  Star ratings are for the ones I visited (and in the process verified that they were in business at that time).

Many of the restaurants rated with three or four stars are ones to which I made return visits, so really the desire to enjoy good food was the purpose for making the list.  Today it may also be of some historical value, or it may be of some interest for nostalgia.  Only a few of these restaurants are still open today, and I think this is to be expected.

At the time most of the restaurants in the city were Tex-Mex.  I made some notes about places that were New Mexico style, but this mostly means that the enchiladas had red or green chile (and were not Tex-Mex).

Fonda San Miguel was a restaurant that I visited later and discovered that it was a very good interior style Mexican restaurant.  This was one of the city’s earliest non-Tex-Mex four star restaurants, and I believe was one of the earliest of its kind in the United States.

All of the restaurants rated four stars were excellent, but I particularly thought Carmen’s La Tapatia and Mexico Tipico were among the best Tex-Mex restaurants I ever tried (both of these were east of IH-35).

South Austin was pretty much the center of authentic Mexican food, and for this my favorite place was La Reyna (at least it was the place I visited most often).  Now I think there are probably several hundred taquerias and similar interior style Mexican restaurants, taco stands, food trucks, etc. in the city.

My favorite place for tacos was not at any of the restaurants listed, but it was at the food counter in Whole Foods on N. Lamar.  This was part of another trend which is quite popular today, but which was relatively rare in 1985.

In 1985 El Chico seems to have closed all its Austin location (at least this is what I think from reading my notes).  Other chains such as Pancho’s and Monterey House were also pretty close to their ultimate closing in Austin and other cities at this time.

In 1985 Chuy’s (which is now a chain) was operating its original location on Bee Caves Rd. in Austin.  I was never a big fan of it, but I went there because it was close to my house.

For a city of its size, Austin had a very good choice of Mexican restaurants, and more of them were “real Mexican” than in most other cities.  I believe today Austin is one of the foremost cities for Mexican restaurants in the United States, and even in 1985 it was building up to this position.

RATING RESTAURANT ADDRESS PRICES COMMENTS
DOWNTOWN & WEST
Acuñas 511 E. 1st
Casita Jorge’s 1507 Lavaca
Chimichanga 121 W. 5th
El Arroyo 1624 W. 5th
JC Garcia’s 1402 N. IH-35
star 3 Jaime’s Spanish Village 802 Red River Exp Hot sauce is terrible
Julio’s 1005 West Lynn
Las Mañitas 211 Congress
star 2 Manuel’s 310 Congress Very Exp Food is OK, but not Mexican
star 3 Matt’s El Rancho
301 E. 1st Exp Very good, but too expensive
Pinch-a-Pollo 605 Sabine
Santiago’s 604 Neches
Texas Chili Parlor 1409 Lavaca
UNIVERSITY & CENTRAL
Abuelita’s 2323 San Antonio
Austin’s Tamale House 2825 Guadalupe
Chef Lupe’s 2804 N. IH-35
star 4 El Patio
2938 Guadalupe Cheap Best bargain in town
star 2 Fajita Flats
2830 Rio Grande Mod Just fajitas
Las Casas Hancock Shopping Ctr. Formerly El Chico
star 4 Los Tres Bobos 1206 W. 38th Exp Fajitas are excellent
star 2 Trudy’s Texas Star
409 W. 30th Mod New Mexico style
Tula 608 W. 24th
EAST
Alejandro’s 3701 Airport
star 3 Amaya’s Taco Village 4821 E. 7th Mod
Austin’s Tamale House 3518 E. 7th
star 4 Carmen’s La Tapatia 1501 E. 6th Exp Good, but expensive
Cisco’s 1511 E. 6th
Danny’s Mexico Garden 1402 E. 6th
Don Juan’s 2300 E. 1st
star 3 El Azteca
2600 E. 7th Mod
star 3 Gilberto’s 1500 E. 1st Exp  Excellent enchiladas
Hernandez Cafe 1300 E. 6th
star 3 La Cabana
2101 E. 1st Exp  Good food, but expensive
star 4 Mexico Tipico
1707 E. 6th Mod
Nuevo Leon 1209 E. 7th
Peak of Tacos 1132 Airport
Su Casa 2201 Manor
Tio Tito’s 105 Tillery
NORTHEAST
Chef Lupe’s 7100 Hwy. 290 East
El Menudito 7213 Cameron Rd.
El Taquito 5849 Berkman
star 3 El Torito
6134 Hwy. 290 East Exp Some dishes are very good
La Palapa 6640 Hwy. 290 East
star 2 Tres Amigos
7535 Hwy. 290 East Exp Okie style
NORTH
Austin’s Tamale House 5003 Airport
Casa Daniel 11835 Jollyville Rd.
Casita Sanchez 834 E. Rundberg
Cecilia’s Tacos 9614B N. Lamar
Chi Chi’s 8833 Burnet Rd.
El Matador 5343 Burnet Rd.
El Rio 4800 N. IH-35
Fonda San Miguel 2330 W. North Loop
La Fiesta 2190 North Loop
La Fiesta 7032 Woodhollow
Lala’s 2207 Justin Ln.
La Mesa 11606 N. IH-35
La Morada 13450 Research
star 2 La Ronda
Research & Fairfield Mod- Exp
La Talavera 6505 N. IH-35
Lupita’s 8127 Mesa
star 3 Mario’s 7113 Burnet Rd. Mod More NM than Tex-Mex
Mexicali Rose 2113 W. Anderson
Mi Burrito 9428 Parkfield
Monterey House 8600 Burnet Rd.
Pancho’s 5800 Burnet Rd.
star 2 Pinch-a-Pollo
7915 Burnet Rd. Mod Chicken only thing on menu (is good)
San Miguel 2330 W. North Loop
SOUTH
star 3 Alberto’s Tapatia 1909 Wm. Cannon Exp Not worth the price
BB Mexican Food 2210A S. 1st
star 4 Casa Ramirez 3632 S. Congress Mod Good food– good prices
star 2 Chuy’s
1728 Barton Spgs. Mod
star 4 El Gallo 2910 S. Congress Exp
El Sombrero 3116 S. Congress
Jalisco Bar 414 Barton Spgs.
star 2 La Fuentes
6507 Circle S Rd. Exp
star 4 La Reyna 1816 S. 1st Mod
Las Casas 2610 S. IH-35 Formerly El Chico
Las Palomas 3219 Bee Caves Exp Too expensive to try
Mi Tierra 6863 Hwy. 290 West
star 2 Monterey House
1202 E. Ben White Mod Better than the one in OKC
Noemi’s Taco House 5607 S. Congress
Pancho’s 102 E. Oltorf
star 2 Salsa’s
4308 Manchaca
Tamales by Bargas 2448 S. 1st
Tres Amigos 1811 Capital of Texas
SOUTHEAST & MONTOPOLIS
Casa Acapulco 1705A S. Lakeshore
Casita Jorge’s 2538 Elmont
star 3 El Corral 336 Bastrop Hwy. Mod
El Sombrero 3502 Burleson Rd.
La Reyna 2205 E. Riverside
Montopolis Taco Inn 901 Vargas Rd.
ROUND ROCK
El Matador 111 W. Main

 

The four-star rating system was as follows:

star 4 Very Good.
star 3 Good.
star 2 Fair.
star 1 Poor.

Albuquerque Mexican Restaurants 1981

This list is presented for anyone who is interested in the Mexican restaurants which were in Albuquerque in 1981.  It grew out of a project I did to write down a list of all the Mexican restaurants from the telephone directory and then to make notes about the ones I tried.

Although the list was strictly for my own benefit while I was in the city, I think it might be of some historical use today.  It certainly provides a clue about the longest running restaurants in the city, since very few of the restaurants which were open in 1981 survive today.

These restaurants were listed under the “Mexican restaurants” section in the telephone directory, and while the list seems fairly accurate, I had no way to verify it.

By “Mexican” this really meant “New Mexican,” since very few restaurants served other styles of Mexican food.

One of my favorite restaurants, El Modelo, was not on the list (but it mainly serves take-out orders and maybe the Yellow Page people did not consider it to be a “restaurant”).

The restaurants I visited are in bold.  All others were simply copied from the phone book to give me possible places to try.

RATING RESTAURANT ADDRESS PRICES COMMENTS
ALBUQUERQUE
A & B Rest 6004 Edith NE
Abeyta & Bernell’s 2805 San Mateo NE
Acapulco Tacos 5101 Southern SE
Amador Mex Food 4703 Central NW
Amigo’s Cafe 1736 Central SW
Anita’s 3314 Isleta SW
Anita’s 2105 Mountain NW
star 3 Anita’s 3206 San Mateo NE Mod Good food-not too fancy or exp
Antonito’s 5024 4th NW
Aunt Billie’s 9119 Central NE
star 4 Baca’s 3311 Central NE Mod
Backstreet Gourmet Shop 213 3rd SW
Baja Tacos 3527 Gibson SE
Bird of Paradise 5211 Gibson SE
Bob’s Fish & Chips 700 Central SE
Burrito Bar-B-Que 515 Wyoming NE
Camino Alegre 906 Park Ave SW
Camino Real 416 Yale SE
Carlos Taquitos 1634 Isleta SW
star 4 Casa Grande 2525 Central NW Mod Excellent enchiladas
star 3 Cocina de Carlos 4901 Lomas NE Mod
Comedor de Julia 2905 4th NW
Del Valle 1502 Wyoming NE
De Pinos 1435 San Mateo SE
Diner Cafe 4519 4th NW
El Amigo 208 Central SW
El Burrito 602 Broadway SE
El Camino 6800 4th NW
Eloy’s 1826 Eubank NE
star 3 Eloy’s 3617 Wyoming NE Mod
El Parador de Maria 400 San Felipe NW
El Patio 142 Harvard SE
El Patron 2266 Wyoming NE
star 3 El Pinto 10500 4th NW Exp
El Prado First Plaza NW Galleria
star 3 El Ranchito 602 Central SW Mod
El Restaurante del Valle 1411 Isleta SW
El Sinaloa 800 Iron SE
El Sombrero 801 Juan Tabo NE
Enchilada Queen 5409 4th NW
Franco’s 1510 Girard NE
Garcia’s Kitchen 1113 4th NW
Garcia’s Kitchen 125 2nd NW
Green Burrito 804 Broadway NE
Green Burrito 1508 4th SW
Indian Pueblo Cultural Ctr. 2401 12th NW
Julio’s 1408 Eubank NE
La Esquina 60 First Plaza Galleria
La Estrellita 11417 Menaul NE
La Fontana 1103 Mountian NW
La Hacienda Old Town Plaza
La Margarita 4100 San Mateo NE
La Mesa 7509 Copper NE
La Mexicana 6300 San Mateo NE
La Mexicana Tortilla Co 306 Coal SW
La Nana’s 6417 Menaul NE
La Nana’s 4801 Central NE
La Piñata 6820 Menaul NE
La Placita Old Town Plaza
La Quinta 319 5th SW
star 2 La Salita 1217 Eubank NE Exp
Las Cazuelas 4520 4th NW
M & M Cafe 1337 Bridge SW
Mac’s La Sierra 6217 Central NW
Maria Teresa 618 Rio Grande NW
Maria’s Tamale Hut 2900 Morris NE
Marty’s 108 6th SW
Mary & Tito’s Cafe 2711 4th NW
Merlinda’s 1600 Isleta SW
Mexican Carryout Kitchen 4917 4th NW
Mexican Main Foods 922 Coal SW
Mi Casita 8302 Zuni SE
Miguel’s Gibson & San Mateo SE
star 2 Monroe’s 1520 Lomas NW Exp
Monterey Inn 1000 Juan Tabo NE
Ortega’s Old Town Plaza
star 2 Pancho’s 8601 Central NE Cheap
Papa Felipe’s 8806 4th NW
star 4 Papa Felipe’s 520 Coronado Center Exp Good blue corn ench.
Phil’s Coffee Shop 80 Winrock Center
Puente Cafe 2002 Bridge SW
Pup ‘N Taco 501 Central NE
Pup ‘N Taco 4400 Central SE
Pup ‘N Taco 4011 Central NW
Restaurante de Gomez 8531 Northeastern NE
Roberto’s 4615 Menaul NE
Roberto’s 6540 2nd NW
Rutillo’s 11016 Central SE
Sadie’s Valley Bowl 6132 4th NW
Sam’s for Lunch 112 Monroe NE
star 3 Silvano’s 5016 Lomas NE Mod Excel. blue corn ench.
Silvano’s 2509 San Mateo NE
Southwest Sakari 509 Central NW
Taco Phil’s 931 Coors SW
Taco Sal 9621 Menaul NE
Taco Villa 2608 Central SE
Taco Village 4201 Central NW
Tamale Factory 121 Coors SW
Tia Maria’s 3313 4th NW
Turquoise Coffee Shop 4301 Central NE
Western Drive-In 9129 4th SW
BERNALILLO
El Charro Cafe 121 Calle del Banco
BOSQUE FARMS
Benny’s 1675 Bosque Farms
CORRALES
Casa Vieja Corrales
El Comedor de Corrales Corrales
Territorial House Corrales
RIO RANCHO
Mexican Carryout Kitchen Rio Rancho
SANDIA PARK
Pete’s Sandia Park
AREA WIDE
Taco Bell 5 Locations

 

The four-star rating system was as follows:

star 4 Very Good.
star 3 Good.
star 2 Fair.
star 1 Poor.

Additional Comments

The four-star rating system was based on my experiences throughout New Mexico, particularly in Santa Fe and Española.  Baca’s and Casa Grande were the two notable restaurants in Albuquerque which I thought could be classified as among the best in the state.

I had expected Albuquerque to be the New Mexican food mecca in the state, and I was surprised by the number of three and two star restaurants I found.  I was not really surprised, though, that several of them were in Old Town or the other tourist areas.

In looking at the big picture, I would make the following observations from this list:

  • At the time, Albuquerque had one of the highest number of Mexican restaurants per capita in the United States.
  • The restaurants were located throughout the city, and were quite prominent in the areas which I knew to have a large Anglo population.
  • Almost all of these restaurants were what we now call “New Mexican” cuisine (not south of the border Mexican style food as is more the case today).
  • Many of my expectations for New Mexican cuisine today are based on my early experiences in Albuquerque and other areas of the state.  Thus if enchiladas are rolled instead of flat, the chile does not have a really good kick, or sopapillas are served only for dessert (and not with the meal) this is just not real New Mexican food to me (although it might still be good).  Also, they really should use blue corn tortillas (although in 1981 only about 50% of the restaurants did this).

Chinese New Year Dinner–The Meaning Behind the Menu

The Chinese New Year is a time for family to come together and have a time of celebration.  This seems to be the one time on the Chinese calendar when business shuts down and extended families are not only provided the opportunity to all be together, but there is a strong social expectation that they will do so.

Chinese New Year dinner

Dinner is set for Chinese New Year

The New Year usually extends for several days, although it seems that business gets back to normal pretty quickly.  Family get-togethers in the evenings are common during this week, particularly because some people travel great distances to be with their family and they want to take advantage of the opportunity.

The standard protocol is for young families to spend the first day of New Year with the husband’s parents or family, and to spend the second day with the wife’s family.  Thus it is standard for there to be at least two New Year’s meals, but at times there are more (if they are able to extend the visits).  This is first and foremost a family holiday, but at times friends and visitors come in also (this is mainly how I have been able to experience traditional New Year meals and have come up with an idea of what it all means).

Even if a family cannot normally afford good food, they make a special effort to enjoy the best at New Year.  Thus the “traditional” New Year meal consists of the best that Chinese food has to offer (within reason, of course).  I sometimes think Chinese “banquet food” is too much and I would rather just eat the everyday stuff, but when it comes to the New Year’s meal I really do think this is some of the best Chinese food I can experience.

The table itself is very impressive for this meal.  Traditionally the family sits at a round table with a lazy Susan in the middle.  The food is served “family style” where all diners helps themselves.  I think there is always enough food so that everyone can eat all they want and there will be leftovers (sometimes these are used the next day for the second meal).  Beer or alcohol is traditionally served, because the object of the meal is to talk and have a good time.  The server can enjoy the food along with everyone else because everything is on the lazy Susan and there is no need to be constantly serving the guests.

The traditional dishes served all have a specific significance, and are meant to bring good luck throughout the year.  I have noticed that there are multiple dishes that bring money, good health, or good luck, so families have some choice about which dishes they want to serve.

Fa cai soup is eaten to make money during the New Year

Fa cai soup symbolizes making money

The photos in this article are for a Cantonese style New Year dinner, and although there is some variety from meal to meal, there are also some common elements.  One dish that seems to be essential is a soup called fa cai tang (fa cai is called “fat choy” in Cantonese).  The fa cai is black moss (literally “hair vegetable” in Chinese).  In Cantonese “fat choy” sounds very much like the words for “make money” or “multiply money” in the greeting used for New Year “wishing you prosperity.”  I won’t try to claim that I am a Chinese linguist, but this is what ties this vegetable to the New Year celebration.

The soup also contains dates (sweet plum), tofu skins, water chestnuts, and pork.  It also sometimes contains dried seafood (but not in this particular soup).  The front leg of the pig is used specifically because it is called the “hand” in Chinese.  The hand is used to reach out and take things (usually money, but it can also mean finding a marriage partner).

The dates are also symbolic of having children (as are peanuts).

I have also seen at times that the family lets the head of the household or the main breadwinner partake of the soup first (the good luck for making money is apparently enhanced for the person who eats the soup first).  I think this only works the first day of New Year, though, and after that anybody can eat the soup any time they wish (and I think this soup is delicious).

Steamed whole fish symbolizes being able to save the money you make and not having periods of want during the year

Steamed whole fish symbolizes being able to save the money you make and not having periods of want during the year

Steamed fish is important because if you make money, you want to be able to keep it.  The word “fish” sounds like the word for “abundance,” and the whole fish is supposed to represent a prosperous year from beginning to end (you can save the extra money when you have it and use it when you need it).

Sesame oil chicken at New Year is for a "good life"

Sesame oil chicken at New Year is for a “good life”

Sesame oil chicken is not only delicious but it is part of the New Year’s “good luck” theme.  I have been told that the Chinese words for “chicken” and “world” sound very similar, so eating the chicken symbolizes having a good life (something like having a world of possibilities).  I think maybe people eat this because it is so good, and the symbolism of it is a bonus.

Sweet and sour means you will attain your goals without difficulty

Sweet and sour means you will attain your goals without difficulty

The bowl of sweet and sour has a different taste than the sweet and sour sauce found in most restaurants, and has a more complex flavor than just the sweet component.  At New Year, though, it is eaten mainly for its symbolism (also, though, I think it makes the meal a little more enjoyable).  The meaning of it is that anything you do this year will be easy, and you will not face difficulties in accomplishing it.  I do not know, though, if this is because of the name of the dish or the ingredients in it.

Lettuce is for getting more money

This cooked lettuce (sang cai) is for getting more money

Lettuce means having good luck and getting more money (probably because of its green color, but I am not sure about this).

Roast duck for Chinese New Year

Roast duck for New Year symbolizes happiness

Who wouldn’t be happy eating this delicious dish?  The problem with roast duck is that it is probably the hardest to cook out of all the ones served at this meal.  I was told that this one came from Golden Phoenix in Oklahoma City.

Tofu and shrimp as a Chinese New Year dish

Tofu and shrimp with a number of other ingredients

I was not clear about the meaning of this dish except that shrimp represents vigorous health and being active.

Taro pork

Taro pork

This pork and taro dish is something they like–it does not have a special significance for New Year (they probably have everything covered by all the other dishes that were served).

Some New Year snacks

Chinese New Year snacks

I believe that normally there is not a formal dessert with Chinese New Year.  Instead, snacks, candy, and treats are usually available for munching.  Here are three that I took home.

For any Chinese family the most important aspect of New Year is for the family to get together if possible.  The families living in the United States do not always find it possible, especially since work schedules do not usually let employees off for Chinese New Year as they do in China and other Asian countries.  I think these families keep tradition as much as they can, but the important thing is always for families to get together when they can and to enjoy themselves when they do.

At times I have ordered a Chinese New Year meal at a restaurant to eat with my family and friends, and I think this is a good tradition as well.  I have found many restaurants to be all too willing to provide the food if they have customers who want to order it.  I mainly enjoy the food and the fellowship, but it is good to know something about the traditions behind it as well.