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That ’70s show
Thursday, 12 January 2012
Photos by Wes Naman
Menu, decor of legendary local throwback restaurant/lounge evoke bygone dining era
By Lindsey Little
When you create a good recipe, you should never let it go. And that is exactly the frame of mind that the owners of Paul’s Monterey Inn have kept for over 40 years. The atmosphere is quirky and old-fashioned, and the fact that the menu hasn’t changed in decades is a great indication that the food will stick around for years to come.

Paul’s Monterey Inn was opened in 1971 by Paul Larson and was later passed down to his son and the current owner, Eric Larson. This restaurant represents the ‘70s era perfectly, with wood-paneled walls, private leather booths and dim lighting which all set the ideal tone for a vintage and romantic evening. 

My fiancé and I had reservations on a Friday night, but still had a line of people ahead of us, so we had a few minutes to spare. We took a detour into the lounge which immediately elicited memories of a cozy cabin in the winter months. The fireplace brought a warm and snug feel to the lounge on a freezing night, as people cuddled up in the booths and drank stiff drinks from martini glasses, enjoying Paul’s full drink menu.

It was clear we were in the company of a primarily older and wiser demographic, and it was apparent that many individuals had been enjoying eats and drinks at the Inn since their days of youth.

Once we were seated, we were presented with a large menu and enthusiastically viewed the selection of meats, seafood and salads. The options were every carnivore’s dream: a 25-ounce Porterhouse Steak, Filet Mignon and Beef Kabobs were a few of the top choices, among many. Other alternatives offered healthier favorites, such as Cobb Salad, Lobster Tail, King Salmon and a Broiled Halibut Steak. The salmon and halibut come with an ever-changing sauce which may be a tomato pesto or a buttery blackberry brandy.

ImageAs we waited for our entrees, we enjoyed an on-the-house loaf of dense and deliciously moist, homemade beer-bread served on its very own cutting board, alongside our two glasses of lush and velvety Pinot Noir. Each meal comes with a dinner salad, consisting of field greens, iceberg lettuce, sliced cucumbers, plum tomatoes and croutons. The chilled balsamic vinaigrette was tasty and far superior to the watery ranch dressing.

As tempting as the non-artery-clogging options were, Paul’s has always been known for its prime rib and steaks — the restaurant serves more than 400 orders of prime rib every week — and we couldn’t pass up the restaurant favorites. We decided on the 18-ounce Prime Rib of Beef with Au Jus, and also chose the Sirloin and Crab Leg combination.

Our waitress approached the table with two plates, heavy with large slabs of meat which each emanated an irresistible aroma. Every true meat lover knows to order prime rib either rare or medium rare, and we chose the latter per the waitress’ recommendation. Salty au jus was poured over the meat, which was cooked to perfection, adding just the right amount of juiciness to the dish.

A bright green onion accompanied the meal and added a burst of flavor to every bite, as did horseradish that was not too spicy and perfect for the faint of heart and a baked potato with sour cream and butter. The potato was served at the perfect temperature, with every bite melting in the mouth for a rich and buttery treat. As small as it may have been, my favorite part of the sirloin and crab dish was the solitary onion ring placed strategically on top of the meat. After hearing many great things about Paul’s famed onion rings, I expected a lot, and those expectations were surpassed. The tasty, non-greasy batter created an unrivaled crispness to complement the delectable sweetness of the onion.

ImageAs I delved into the vibrant red and white crab legs, Paul’s again did not disappoint. In a desert state like New Mexico it can be difficult to find great seafood. Thankfully, the flavor was impeccable, and once the chunks of crab meat were dipped in the melted butter, the thought of having leftovers was unfeasible. The fact that these legs were already pre-cracked made them that much better — who doesn’t love pleasure without the pain?

I was not overly impressed with the sirloin, which was ordered medium rare. It was fairly tough, overcooked and the flavor was lacking. The mashed potatoes, on the other hand, were pleasantly creamy with an ideal amount of garlic — so appetizing that I was practically licking the bowl.

This throwback restaurant is full of regulars with whom the bartenders and servers are on a first-name basis. Whether you are a first-timer or a faithful customer of years or decades, this family-owned restaurant will welcome you with open arms and cheerfully say goodbye as you leave stuffed with delicious food.

Paul’s Monterey Inn
1000 Juan Tabo NE, 505.294.1461
11a-2:30p, 5-10p, Mon.-Sun.
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