Chile Rio, opened by Dave Garduño and his daughters, combines a skilled restaurant hand with the latest hip food trends
By Mike English
Photo by Wes Naman
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
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.
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.