Dinner at Mary and Tito’s (Albuquerque, NM)

After a day at the balloon fiesta, we were ready for dinner. Close to our hotel was the legendary Mary and Tito’s, purveyor of what many foodies regard as one of the best places to have New Mexican food and a 2010 winner of the James Beard “America’s Classic” award. The accolades don’t stop there as food critics throughout New Mexico have showered heaps of praise.

I ordered the carne adovada, one of M & T’s signature dishes. It was extremely good (☆☆☆½), tender and flavorful chunks of pork, served Christmas-style. Both red and green chile sauces were excellent. There is something unique about the red sauce, spicy and full of chile flavor and glowing an almost unnatural red.

Carne adovada plate

Carne adovada plate

My wife’s chicken flautas were also real good (☆☆☆). Both were served with rice and refried beans. The beans were lardy, the only way to make them.

Chicken flautas plate

Chicken flautas plate

The corn tortillas we’ve had in the SW are slightly thinner than what we get in the NW, which also makes everyone’s tortilla chips lighter. Throughout our trip, we’ve noticed that rice seems to be an afterthought. Some of them have been mushy, M & T’s a little undercooked.

Mary & Tito’s Cafe
2711 4th Street, NW
Albuquerque, NM 87107

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

It was fortuitous that the grandest balloon festival in the world would be staged while we were touring the Southwest, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. I made sure that we would be in Albuquerque when it happened, which required my juggling our itinerary somewhat to accommodate the event. We always wanted to experience it, so it was without question going to be a destination.

Though the weak economy reduced the number of entries by about 300, so we were told, the festival still showcased hundreds of balloons from all over the world. It’s appropriate I suppose that, in this land with its long history of Catholicism, the morning event is named Mass Ascension. In the evening, during the night glow event, balloons are tethered but still enthrall when the burners are ignited to light up the interiors of the balloons.

As with any event of this size and popularity, the Balloon Fiesta has become ever more commercialized. Event merchandise and food booths lined one side of the field in what seemed like an infinite stretch. Rather than charging admission for an entire day, there are two separate admissions—one for the morning and one for the afternoon/evening. There is a lot of encouragement to take shuttles ($20/person per event) to and from various park-and-rides throughout the city to ease traffic congestion at the site itself. This, it undoubtedly did because there were thousands of event-goers. There were scores of buses shuttling event-goers back and forth throughout the day and evening. With the crowds, getting to and from the buses was a major hassle, which along with the cost, led to our decision only to attend the morning event.

For sheer spectacle and whimsy, everyone should attend this event at least once. There are balloon festivals throughout the country (and the world), but the Albuquerque event is in a class by itself.

Bún at Saigon Restaurant (Albuquerque, NM)

Pork and shrimp bun

Pork and shrimp bún

For dinner, we headed over to Saigon Restaurant and ordered bún (☆☆½). It would have been a very good version if the noodles had been drained adequately after being removed from hot water. The result was a pool of water at the bottom of the bowl that diluted the nuoc cham that we like to pour over the noodles. This was a grievous oversight in our opinion that disproves the idea that it’s impossible to screw up a bún. Too bad because the pork slices were lean, flavorful and tender and the shrimp was good, too. The devil is in the details.

Saigon Restaurant
6001 San Mateo Boulevard Northeast D4
Albuquerque, NM 87109