A Plethora of Fails in the High Desert

13 October 2014

As I was in Little Rock getting ready to head to New Mexico for the real purpose of this multi-part trip, an unpleasant surprise popped up — I was no longer expected, or needed, in New Mexico. Crap, at the very last minute. So I was thinking, should I just head home, go to Dallas (where my connection is) and stay, or just take 2 days off in the high desert? After trying to see what I could change/cancel with minimum financial penalties, I decided to just stick with it and take 2 days in Albuquerque.

I’ve never really liked Albuquerque, even though I’ve been there many times over the past 20 years. I always have to remind myself after a night of drinking that the altitude gets to me — more and more over the years. A sure sign of aging…

We left Little Rock just before a massive storm, and the last 30 minutes into Dallas was one of the roughest I’ve seen in awhile. After some delays, I arrived into Albuquerque with no real sched. Had to find a hotel on the run, and also 2 days worth of plans. A full schedule became totally empty. The only good think was lunch, which was an Ultimate Cheeseburger at Jack-in-the-Box — my ultimate guilty pleasure…

I spent a bit of the afternoon in the hotel room teyiing to figure out things to do, including food ideas. I found a few and just before I was going to go to this one place for dinner, I saw a bunch of pictures of that pure jackhole Guy Fieri there on their website, so I nixed the plans last minute. I’m sorry, but this guy laughed at me the night my restaurant closed and it took all my self control to not knock his block off. I will not visit a restaurant if his pictures are everywhere on their website.

It was a little late to do more research and frankly I was tired since I was up since 5am in Little Rock, so I went with something that I hoped would prove me wrong — Ranchers Club of New Mexico. I’ve eaten at this high-end steakhouse a few times in the past, and it has progressively gotten worse each time. My last visit, about 3 years ago, was just terrible. I was hoping it was revived when the hotel it was attached to was rebranded.

Unfortunately not so. The service was somewhere between attentive and too attentive (with other tables). I understand the love of staff to chat with customers (to endear yourself to a larger tip), but when you start chatting for over 10 minutes and ignore your other tables? The pepper soup was mediocre, and this horrific starter just ruined my night…


This was supposed to be “heirloom” tomato salad. But the oil and vinegar that flooded this dish just destroyed it. I’m sorry, you shouldn’t have the tomato slices inundated. Terrible. Ate about a third of it and abandoned it. The tomato slices were actually falling apart in the oil bath… You can’t see from this angle but there was about a centimetre of oil in this disaster…ugh… Next!


Then the prime rib… Nothing special, but at least it wasn’t bad like the steak I had last time (that was nearly inedible). But it was not very flavourful, and needed quite a lot of jus. Frankly the mac-and-cheese was the best part of this meal… No dessert, I just wanted out of this place. Never again…

The next morning I headed out for an early lunch at one of Albuquerque’s best-known eateries, Mary & Tito’s Cafe. This place is a legend, an old school that serves some of the best New Mexican food anywhere. One of their specialties is the carne adovada.


It was tasty, just spicy enough to make it good, tho the meat at times tasted well overcooked. Looked exactly the same as when I was last here a decade ago. Tasted pretty much the same too. A simple place for a simple but good lunch. I’ve never really been a fan of Mexican, Tex-Mex or New Mexican cuisine, so I’m not the person to ask, nor the person to really rave about this.

I will spare you the details of my afternoon that involved strolling around some parks and doing very little, but for dinner I planned on going to a place that has some good food buzz, Elaine’s.

An early dinner (as my flight out was once again early), I relaxed at the bar and enjoyed a glass of Gruet rose, one of my favourite sparkling wines. I usually am not a fan of sparkling, but I have a soft spot for this pink local gem. Yes, Gruet is a winery based in New Mexico. Love it. We used to serve this at my old restaurant.


My starter this evening was the mac-and-cheese, a rich dish by all means. Generous amounts of gruyere and smoked ham, it was pretty heavy. Maybe a little too much, as you can see from the pool it seemed to be swimming in. But it was tasty.


My main course was a bit of a disaster. They had recommended it, based on the Maine lobster. I asked them about local flavours but they really sold this dish to me. Yeah, lobster in the desert, seemed to have shrunk too. I should have been weary as it was twice the price of everything else on the menu. It wasn’t bad, but the coconut rice on bottom was so undercooked it was inedible. I ate the shellfish and abandoned the rest…

I left without a dessert. I was so generally disappointed with the last 2 days here I just wanted to get to sleep and say goodbye to the high desert. Frankly the best meal I had was the Ultimate Cheeseburger from Jack-in-the-Box.

I have a strange feeling that after half a dozen or so trips here over the years, this is the last time I leave this high desert.

Ranchers Club of New Mexico
1901 University Boulevard NE

Mary & Tito’s Cafe
2711 4th Street NW

3503 Central Avenue NE
Albuquerque, New Mexico


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