Sunday, July 20, 2014

When the Layover is Just the Beginning

I thought our night in Albuquerque was going to be one of those means-to-an-end stops.  The “means” being a late night arrival from the East Coast, needing a bed on which to put our heads and a restaurant to fill our bellies the next day before we hit the road.  The “end” being those more desirable, storied parts of New Mexico- Santa Fe, Taos- for which we were destined.

As with so many times when I have had no expectations, a city managed to surprise me. 

John had booked the Hotel Andaluz with little more to go on than their claim to be the only boutique hotel in Albuquerque.  Driving through the rather desolate streets of downtown, in the shadow of large, chain hotels, it was a bit of a shock (and a relief) to walk into serene interior of the Andaluz, complete with intricate wood paneling seemingly lifted of the walls of some Moorish hacienda in Spain.

It turned out the Andaluz is the only historic hotel still standing in Albuquerque.  After a recent $30 million renovation it is unique in an otherwise sea of standard room offerings.  Though just steps from the Convention Center and the somewhat seedy nightlife of Central Avenue, the Andaluz had the charm more often found in boutique hotel-rich cities like San Francisco and Miami.  Further, at only $100 for the room, the Andaluz would turn out to be the best hotel deal in our three week American West Road Trip.

By the time we checked in, the hotel’s restaurant, run by one of New Mexico’s most well respected chefs, had long since closed.  But the pleasant woman at the front desk recommended a nearby bar she claimed to hang out at herself on her nights off. 

Crowd lining up to order at the counter at Frontier.
Even though it was past midnight on a Monday, The Anodyne did not make us feel unwelcome.  There were still enough people milling about, playing pool, or nursing a beer from one of the thirty-plus taps that we felt right at home.  The bar doesn’t serve food but we had heard there were chips and salsa available, apparently all gone by the time we arrived.   Unperturbed, we ordered a Macallan each and called that dinner.

Even before the hotel clerk recommended Anodyne, it turns out we had already heard the best tip we would have from a local.  The employee at Thrifty Car Rental, a friendly girl with white-blond hair dip-dyed Smurf-blue, had given us the full run down at the counter on all her favorite things to do in the area.  Frontier, she insisted, was the place to go if we wanted a taste of “real” Southwestern cuisine. 

Frontier was the sort of restaurant we would have driven right by without a second look if not for the recommendation.  The red and white barn exterior, not to mention its location directly across from the university, seemed more Waffle House than Beacon of Authentic Southwestern Cuisine.

Chicken enchiladas with chopped green chiles. 

I realized with one bite of my chicken enchiladas buried under a mountain of chopped New Mexican green chiles with just the smallest sprinkle of melted cheddar, that all these years I had been eating enchiladas the wrong way.  As for John’s adovada soft tacos, I had never before heard of that particular way of marinating pork in a red chile sauce.  The heat on both was just right- the slow tingling that develops over time without burying the flavors of the sweet marinade, savory pulled meats, and salty chips on the side.

It was hard to imagine we would eat better Southwestern food after Frontier, and that was our very first meal in New Mexico.  There would be more excellent meals as we took the high road out of town to Santa Fe and then on to Taos. But that first amazing meal, on the recommendation of a total stranger, was a good reminder than on a road trip, sometimes the “means” was the “end” you were looking for all along.

Hotel Andaluz
125 2nd St NW Albuquerque, NM, 87102888 734 8503

409 Central NW, Albuquerque, NM 87102

2400 Central Ave SE, Albuquerque, NM 87106

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer currently on her honeymoon, en route to a new home in Hong Kong. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

No comments:

Post a Comment