Albuquerque’s Native population doubled for the 2016 Gathering of Nations Pow Wow.
Now that the event has passed, how can you continue to support Natives in Albuquerque? Have dinner in a Native-owned restaurant!
I know of six of them, including one brewery. Not all of them serve Native cuisine, but each of them offers something tasty and unique.
Pueblo Harvest Cafe at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, 2401 12th St. NW
If you’re not familiar with Pueblo food, the Pueblo Harvest Café serves some delicious home favorites, including stew, frybread, fresh tortillas, chile and fried Kool-Aid pickles. There are even a few Navajo foods on the menu, like mutton sandwiches and stew.
The food here is not concession stand fare. The chefs do an elegant take on some favorites with high-quality ingredients, twists and creative signatures.
Take the Pueblo Eggs Benedict, for example. A spicy turkey sausage patty and eggs are piled on a buttered and grilled Pueblo bread and covered in a green chile hollandaise sauce. It’s got the makings of a traditional eggs benedict but there’s a ton more flavors and textures to explore and enjoy.
If you haven’t had buttered and grilled/toasted Pueblo bread before, this is the chance to enhance your life.
The Pueblo Harvest Cafe hosts live music bands on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights and for $10, it’s all-you-can-eat pizza while you groove.
The restaurant is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. For more information visit the Pueblo Harvest Cafe website.
The Laguna Burger at The 66 Pit Stop, 14311 Central Ave. NW
In New Mexico, the green chile cheeseburger is king. But 20 minutes west of Albuquerque, the Laguna Burger reigns.
Located inside The 66 Pit Stop travel center is a grill that turns out 3.5 tons of perfectly cooked beef patties every month. This place is busy all the time and that’s because the #LagunaBurger has a rabid following.
“We don’t consider it a fast food burger,” said Ryan Westerman, franchise operations manager for the Laguna Development Corporation.
For $5, the burger comes stacked on a buttered and grilled bun, topped with the usual burger toppings and a nice helping of their special “x-mas” blend of New Mexico green chile, which is a more exciting way of saying green chile roasted with red chile.
The half-pound patties are smashed onto a flat grill by grill cooks who were trained by Laguna Pueblo’s master burger chef. Later, they’re seasoned with a top secret seasoning.
The Laguna Burger started out as a “feast burger.” Then it moved into the Pueblo’s grocery store. Then to a gas station on the Pueblo and now it’s at this pit stop on Route 66. When asked if the Pueblo is going to build a restaurant for the burger, Ryan Westerman, franchise operations manager, said, “yes.”
Biting into one of these is a special experience because roasted chile has a unique flavor; it’s spicy (how spicy depends on the batch) and a little sweet from the fire-roasting process. The beef patty is perfectly—and mysteriously—seasoned and cooked with a little bit of a crust.
The Laguna Burger is famous for a reason. It’s delicious. People from all over the world stop by. Locals pack the joint every day. TV show hosts visit all the time and try to get the secret seasoning from the cook, but they can’t.
Hoka Hey at Bow & Arrow Brew Hall, 608 McKnight Ave. NW
This beautiful and clean-cut establishment near downtown is one of Albuquerque’s newest gathering places. As of Gathering of Nations week, this 15-barrel brewery had been open for less than three months.
It’s set up like a German brew hall, with long tables across the tasting area, which promotes socialness and community. The decor is modest, clean, elegant, modern and warm, with a Southwest flare and sense of adventure.
“It’s been a great adventure,” said Shyla Sheppard, owner and CEO who’s also from the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation.
Sheppard, a Stanford graduate, was in the business of supporting other entrepreneurs’ dreams at an investing firm. But with support from friends and family, she decided to support her own business venture.
From her passion for craft beer, and the passion of others on the Bow & Arrow team, comes a beer menu very much inspired by the Great Southwest. On the menu, patrons can find a saison called Sun Dagger, a mild ale called Flint & Grit and an American stout called Storm & Hearth. But, in the short time since this brewery’s opening, the crowd favorite is a fresh Indian pale ale called Hoka Hey. It has a delicious and refreshing citrus kick.
Bow & Arrow is about appreciating the exciting and unique flavors of craft beer. It’s about fostering responsibility, Sheppard said, not “throwing it back.”
There is a three-pint limit here and a full flight equals two pints.
Though not a full-fledged restaurant, on the menu is Pueblo bread from Grandma Jo’s Bakery in Laguna, New Mexico. Butter for the bread is sourced from My Sweet Basil, a Native-owned food truck.
At Bow & Arrow, it’s all about good taste and community.
Embers Steakhouse at Isleta Casino & Resort, 11000 Broadway Blvd. SE
A short drive from the WisePies Arena will get you to the Isleta Casino & Resort, where a third-floor restaurant, which overlooks the resort’s golf course, grills steaks that are aged at least 28 days.
The menu at Embers Steakhouse is pretty simple and small; with a handful of starters and different cuts of beef that are paired with seasonal vegetables and a choice of a side.
I tried the T-bone steak ($30). It was grilled perfectly (medium rare) with a few subtle seasonings that don’t disrupt the nice, juicy and savory flavors of the beef. It was served with a choice of specialty sauces so I asked for a “flight,” which included a bourbon whiskey sauce, red and green chile, cilantro and lime butter and a gorgonzola butter.
Each sauce had something nice to offer, but the bourbon whiskey sauce was my favorite. It was on the subtle side, with all the tasty notes of a toasty bourbon. That flavor goes surprisingly well with a steak.
Embers Steakhouse is a beautiful restaurant with warm colors—like it’s name—and geometrical, Southwest and Native designs.
If you’re going to visit, make a reservation. Weekends are busy here.
Bien Shur, at Sandia Casino & Resort, 30 Rainbow Road
There is no shortage of food at Sandia Casino & Resort. I counted five places to eat, including one large buffet that had a long line outside on a Friday evening.
If you’re looking for a special place to have dinner that has one of the most fantastic views in Albuquerque, Bien Shur, on the 9th floor of the resort, is the place to go.
The dining area is beautiful and it overlooks both the city of Albuquerque and the Sandia Mountains, which can be breathtakingly beautiful around sunset. They call these mountains “sandia” because they turn pink and red like a “watermelon” at sundown. It’s one of the best things about living in Albuquerque.
The menu is short and sweet, and includes dishes like filet mignon, tea-smoked duck breast, Chilean sea bass and Colorado rack of lamb. I went all in with the latter at $41.
The mildly sweet cherry demi-glace paired very well with the tender lamb, which had a nice crust on it and was seasoned sparingly. The accompanying gouda polenta cake was surprisingly savory. It added a sharp burst of saltiness to the whole dish, which enhanced every mouthful.
If you’re the wine-drinking type, there’s an extensive wine list.
Great food paired with a mesmerizing view makes for a memorable meal.
Burgers at The Grill, 4615 Menaul Blvd. NE and 2520 Juan Tabo Blvd. NE
Stepping inside The Grill gets you a “Hello!” and “Welcome!”
“It’s like people eating in my home,” said Phillip Chavez owner of the little eatery. “I welcome them with open arms.”
Don’t be surprised if Chavez gives you a hug and strikes up a conversation while you wait for your order. He’s pretty cool like that.
And the food? The food is delicious.
The menu includes burgers, ribeye steaks, chicken and hot dogs. And after ordering, you’re welcome to endless chips and homemade salsa.
I always get the Mama burger because it’s infused with a perfect degree of smoke from the mesquite coals under the decades-old grill. It’s topped with whatever you want it topped with – you just have to get it at the toppings bar next to the chips and salsa.
The Mama burger combo (fries and a drink for $8) is very filling. But if you’re hungrier, there’s the bigger, 8-ounce Papa burger.
The Grill originated from Grandpa’s Grill in Gallup, N.M. While the Gallup location is no longer associated with The Grill family, they recently opened a satellite location also in the northeast side of Albuquerque.
The Grill on Menaul is very casual. Old-fashioned tools, kitchen utensils and photos hang on the wall making for good conversation starters and a strong whiff of times past.
“I’m so proud to be Native American and out here doing this,” Chavez said. “Proud!”
For him, it’s not about making food, it’s about feeding a friend.