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Street food Mexico
Wednesday, 16 January 2013
Chile Rio, opened by Dave Garduño and his daughters, combines a skilled restaurant hand with the latest hip food trends

Photo by Wes Naman
By Mike English
One of the biggest Albuquerque food stories in recent years was the bankruptcy and sale of Duke City signature restaurant chain Garduño’s. While the restaurant lives on at two local locations (Winrock and Cottonwood), the Garduño family is no longer affiliated.
Garduño’s founder Dave Garduño apparently isn’t willing to shut the curtain on his four decades-plus in the food industry, however, and the result is one of Albuquerque’s most popular new restaurants, Chile Rio. Billed as a Mexican grill, Chile Rio opened in July alongside Interstate 25 in the old location of the Dickey’s barbecue house. There’s nothing left to suggest Texas barbecue (or the nightclub that followed, Allure Bar & Grill). In fact, the skilled restaurant hand that created the fun atmosphere at Garduño’s is obviously at play in the total makeover here.  

Chile Rio boasts a cantina feel, complete with rustic brick and tin roof accents and table tops inset with colorful beer bottle caps. TVs and neon beer signs line the walls of both the large open dining room and the bar area, lending an informal feel, and the spacious patio adds even more margarita-sipping square footage. Chile Rio was packed with patrons when my dining companion and I visited at 7 p.m. on a recent Wednesday. Absolutely packed.
Whatever fairy dust was used to keep people pouring into Garduño’s over the years is definitely in the air here. Part of that, as mentioned, is the comfortable atmosphere, but the big draw has to be the appealing menu. There’s something of a fad for ethnic “street” food these days. Diners seem especially willing to pay for the flavors and aromas of open-air-food-vendor meals that are traditionally served in places like Acapulco and Bangkok. Who doesn’t want to take a quick culinary trip to the Yucatan, for example? Chile Rio taps right into this trend.
Chile Rio
4811 W. Pan American NE 505.341.8005
HOURS: 11a-10p, daily

Photo by Wes Naman
Front and center on the menu is the “Tijuana Taco Stand.” I’d like to think I’m not a sucker for “street food” marketing tricks, but count me as a fan. First, the Chile Rio corn tortillas are light, papery and almost sweet tasting, yet firm and grease-free enough for hand-held taco eating. Second, the fillings: shrimp sautéed in green chile butter, machaca (chile-spiced beef that’s been dried, then rehydrated and pounded to make it tender), pastor (marinated pork) and pineapple, or Tecate-battered tilapia, to name just some of the possibilities. Tacos are served in batches of three, with charra beans, roasted corn on the cob sprinkled with paprika, salsa and pico de gallo ($11.95).

Alongside our tacos we sampled the Fire Roasted Chicken Tortilla Soup ($5 cup/$7 bowl), which uses Yucatan chicken (read “street food”), roasted chile and an abundance of veggies. It’s the best tortilla soup I’ve ever had, even though it was oddly chicken-free. We also tried the Posole, which was overly salty and not so special.

For our entrees we delved into the roster of “Smokin’ Fajitas,” and chose the Tequila-Lime Chicken Fajita ($14). Served with sautéed onion and bell pepper, as well as fresh guacamole (a signature at Chile Rio), pico di gallo, sour cream and three flour tortillas, this is a serious plate of food.

Another substantial entree is the Steak Rio ($17), a straightforward half-pound cut of New York steak served with two red chile-cheese enchiladas, sweet corn cake, charra beans and guacamole.

Garduño’s, as some might remember, built a good part of its reputation on the margaritas, and Chile Rio is equally savvy with its tequila offerings. Not only is there a roster of 25 or so fine sipping tequilas, but the margarita menu is sophisticated. We went with the fresh-squeezed lime Patron Margarita ($10, the most spendy on the roster) and the Copa de Oro Margarita ($7), which uses Sauza tequila and Cointreau. It’s hard to go wrong with any of these. If you’re a beer lover, the Chile Rio IPA is made by Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery.
Aside from an inexperienced server who initially brought every dish of food to us at once (even after we asked for the soups and tacos first), the professional hand behind Chile Rio is plain to see. Get used to the name. Chile Rio is here to stay.
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