This week, I have the great pleasure of writing from Albuquerque, New Mexico. And if there’s one thing I love as much as the fair climate and stunning scenery, it’s the fun and fiery southwestern cuisine.
Anywhere I visit, I make it a priority to seek out local eats. I find what’s fresh, unique, and authentic to the area, because there’s no better way to immerse yourself in a new place than by indulging in the neighborhood flavors.
Albuquerque’s historic Old Town is a must for any first-time visitors. Full of fun shops, boutiques and eateries, Old Town is a tourist spot still worth doing. It’s here that I found The Church Street Cafe, housed in one of New Mexico’s oldest structures at 2111 Church Street. This restaurant is a perfect place to begin a culinary exploration of New Mexican cuisine and traditional southwest flavors.
A Traveler’s Tip: By no means does the food here win out as the healthiest in all of Albuquerque. But if ever there was a time to indulge, a vacation is certainly it. Sampling authentic fare can be a decadent experience, but there are always ways to slim down even the greasiest, guiltiest grub.
Recommended Dishes: The best way to try a new cuisine is to sample it all. Aside from ordering every item on the menu, however,I suggest the, which comes with a tamale, a chile relleno, an enchilada, red or green chile, beans, sopapillas and a side.
This dish is a great way to experience a variety of quintessential New Mexican dishes. In particular, don’t miss the calabacitas side. This light, vegetarian option is a delicious New Mexican dish made primarily of zucchini squash and corn.
The Not-So-Good Bite: Some cuisines are just not easy to transform into healthy meals. When I ordered the Combination Plate, it came buried under melted cheese. Fortunately, it was easy enough to peel off the thick layer of shredded cheddar to reveal the part of the meal worth the extra calories. As is so often the case, the portions are also overwhelming. I split this with my mother, but if you don’t have a veteran-vegetarian with you, go ahead and order it anyway. Just cut the tamale, enchilada, and chile relleno in half and part with one of the sides. Enjoy half now, and keep the remainder to look forward to tomorrow.
The Good Bite: The Church Street Cafe was flexible, and worked with me to make healthy substitutions. To start, I traded he quelites, (sauteed spinach with jalapeno, onions, and other traditional spices) for the beans, and requested that the enchilada be stuffed with the sauteed spinach, rather than the traditional vegetarian options – cheese or sour cream. I might also suggest requesting that the chile relleno be baked, instead of fried. This, on my part, was an afterthought, but you never know what a restaurant is willing to do to accommodate until you ask.
The Best Bite: Once again, I am bowled over by restaurants with vegetarian-friendly menus. The green chile, which is definite must at Church Street, has a vegetarian preparation, and the menu features items such as vegetarian fajitas, a grilled vegetable sandwich and a vegetarian sandwich with sprouts, avocado, mushrooms, and bell peppers, and all the authentic New Mexican dishes such as calabacitas, quelites, and corn tamales which are naturally healthy, green and meat-free.
No matter where you are, taking the time to try a regional, ethnic, or foreign cuisine is an important part of learning about the locale. What’s more, making smart substitions can quickly take a guilty plate and make it healthier, without losing the opportunity to sample something truly unique.
Off to find another New Mexican bite,