In recent years, Albuquerque, New Mexico, may have become best known as the rough-and-tumble setting of the hit show
Breaking Bad. But this city, which straddles the Rio Grande in the shadow of the Sandía Mountains, is more than just a television backdrop. Albuquerque captures all the Southwest has to offer, and provides visitors the opportunity to fully experience (and taste) the real New Mexico, both past and present.
Keep it light with tarts at Frenchish / Photo courtesy Frenchish
Where to Eat
New Mexican cuisine is a hybrid of Native American and Northern Mexican styles that differs considerably from its eastern neighbor, Tex-Mex. The food of the region centers around “chile,” which refers to both the native New Mexico chile pepper—sometimes referred to as Hatch chile—and the green (fresh) and red (dried) chile sauces made from it. If someone asks “red or green,” they’re asking which sauce you want over your dish, and New Mexicans do put it on
everything. The smart answer for a newbie is “Christmas,” or half and half.
: Built in 1934, this historic inn was designed by famed New Mexico architect John Gaw Meem. The property also houses one of the Southwest’s best restaurants. Los Poblanos also maintains an organic farm that specializes in endangered heirloom produce and supplies the restaurant with the majority of its ingredients. The restaurant’s self-described “Rio Grande Valley cuisine” is mostly cooked over wood fire.
: Albuquerque has no shortage of old-school diners, and while locals will argue about which is best, you can’t go wrong with Frontier. Serving the community since 1971, stop in for local favorites like huevos rancheros for breakfast (don’t skip the signature giant sweet roll), a green-chile cheeseburger for lunch, or a late-night carne adovada burrito. While you wait in the fast-moving line, check out the diner’s extensive gallery of John Wayne portraits. Frontier Restaurant
: Jennifer James has long been a star of the Albuquerque food scene. Her newest restaurant, an unpretentious French-influenced bistro named Frenchish, opened late last year. It offers dishes like New Mexico steak tartare, grilled beef ribeye with roasted mushrooms and an aged-gouda macaroni gratin. Frenchish
Go before 6:30 pm for a boisterous happy hour, where an early-bird, three-course “friends and farmers” dinner is available for $20. The all-French wine list also includes a section of bottles all priced at $25.
A sample of the wares at La Cumbre Brewing Company / Photo courtesy La Cumbre Brewing Company
Where to Drink
Brewery District: There are craft breweries throughout Albuquerque, but the Brewery District—an official designation given to the area a few years ago—is the best place to start.
brews some of the city’s most distinctive beers, and its Elevated IPA is a must-try. La Cumbre (formerly Il Vicino) is the city’s longest-standing brewery. Nearby Canteen Brewhouse serves a mix of New Mexican and Southern comfort food alongside its beers and local wines. Nexus Brewery
Breweries worth a visit outside the district include
, Bosque Brewing , Boxing Bear , Marble Brewery , Kaktus , Lizard Tail and Tractor . Don’t be shy about asking your bartenders for their favorites. Red Door
: The city’s first distillery, which also happens to be located in the Brewery District, makes vodka, gin and rum, as well as a blue corn whiskey produced exclusively from local ingredients. Left Turn Distilling
The tasting room at Gruet Winery / Photo by Gabriella Marks
Gruet Winery : New Mexico was one of the country’s first wine regions, as Spanish monks planted wine grapes in the early 1600s, but world-class, traditional-method sparkling wine from New Mexico? The Champagne-producing Gruet family has planted here since 1984. Their high-altitude sites outside Albuquerque sit between 4,245 and 5,110 feet above sea level and enjoy the warm days, cool nights and disease-free climate ideal for their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Their Albuquerque tasting room, located at the winery, was recently renovated and expanded. Winery tours are given on the last Saturday of each month.
Prairie Star Wine Bar / Photo courtesy Prairie Star Wine Bar
Albuquerque is arguably more of a beer town than a wine town, but when you crave the grape, there are some great places to visit.
offers dozens of options by the glass and panoramic rooftop views. Check out the cellar bar at Apothecary Lounge for live music and great pours. You can take in blind tastings and frequent wine events at Zinc Wine Bar & Bistro Slate Street Café , while has 32 wines by the glass (via Cruvinet) to pair with stunning sunsets over the mountains. Notable is Prairie Star’s “Wednesday Wine & Dine”—a three-course meal for two people and a bottle of wine for only $60. Prairie Star Wine Bar
The Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University / Photo courtesy New Mexico State University
Not to Miss
: Learn why this vegetable is so important to local culture at the Chile Pepper Institute, the only nonprofit organization devoted to the study of chiles. Located on the New Mexico State University campus, the visitor center has seed packets for hundreds of hard-to-find chile varieties. Its nearby teaching garden is open daily from June through October. The Chile Pepper Institute