stay out of Cecilia’s (Café's) kitchen.
Located on the outskirts of downtown Albuquerque, Cecilia’s Café from the outside looks much bigger than it is. Inside, there is seating for thirty or so with a tiny kitchen located off to one side. Cecilia’s was featured on Guy Fieri’s "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" (Food Network), so we knew that this was a must-stop during our stay.
The lunch menu contains all of the New Mexican restaurant classics – tacos, enchiladas (regular and blue corn), burritos, quesadillas, tamales, chile relleno, and carne adovada – all with your choice of red or green chile or a combination of both (ordered as “Christmas”). Chuck stayed with his New Mexican standard, the beef enchiladas with blue corn tortillas and both green and red chile. I vacillated between the carne adovada burrito and the chile relleno, but knowing that the carne adovada is one of Cecilia’s specialties, I selected the speciality – also ordered Christmas. Both meals came with rice and beans.
While we waited for our meals, we had a chance to study the restaurant's interior, taking special note of the corrugated metal "wall," the sign saying: "Overhead Door," and the Christmas lights (above).
This colorful hallway, caught our attention, and we wondered about how we would enjoy a meal sitting in this narrow space.
We snacked on fresh corn tortilla chips with what had to be the hottest salsa ever (see the blue cup in the photo of Kate's dish below). The green color was a testament to jalapenos being the predominant ingredient. Chuck made the mistake of taking a large scoop for his first bite. Light dipping was the order of the day thereafter.
The rice was typical New Mexican restaurant rice seasoned with tomato and mild peppers. The beans were whole pinto beans in a seasoned sauce. While I am not fond of the totally pureed beans, I also am not fond of just whole beans. A mixture of whole and pureed would have been my preference. Chuck’s enchiladas were stacked--rather than rolled--just as he likes them and how I prepare enchiladas, and between the two tortillas was a layer of seasoned ground beef.
My burrito contained a new variation of carne adovada. I am accustomed to the pork being cut in cubes, and this resembled pulled pork with red chile instead of barbecue sauce. And therein lay the problem. I take second place to no one when it comes to loving hot food but Cecilia’s red chile was almost painfully hot. The chile inside the burrito was tempered somewhat from having been cooked with the pork—but only somewhat.
We shared a side order of chicharrones or fried pork skin (in the white cup in the photo above). Knowing that I would probably like these too much, I have avoided ordering them. But after reading that Cecilia’s chicharones are special, we ordered the one cup size portion. Heaven. Decadent. Cecilia only uses the pork fat cut in small cubes with a little meat (no skin) still attached and simmers them in salted water before frying. We decided that the smaller the piece, the better, and, for me, the more fried fat the better.
As we neared the end of our meal, Cecelia came over to our table and asked us if we were enjoying our meal. Since we responded so enthusiastically, the conversation continued, covering the red and green chiles, Guy Fieri'e visit, and her appearance in an upcoming segment on the Travel Channel that features the top restaurants in the U.S. When Chuck asked if he could take her photo, Cecelia agreed but wanted us to join her. We had the feeling that this request must happen often, because the activity in the restaurant stopped as Cecelia called out, "We have a camera guy" and one of the kitchen staff quickly appeared to take the photo. What a hoot.
We took a look at the pastry tray and decided to order one item to eat there and one to take home. Our “eat in” was the pumpkin empanada (left), and let me assure you that this pumpkin never saw the inside of a can. The spices – cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg – were there but not so strong that they overcame the wonderful taste. That night’s dessert was the strawberry pastelito (left), strawberry puree inside a cookie like crust. Also wonderful.
I enjoyed Cecilia’s Café, and Cecilia and her staff were wonderful. Still, I can only give this restaurant 4.0 Addies – the red chile was just too hot.
Thanks so much to everyone for your prayers, cards, e-mails, care packages, and phone calls. Both of us appreciated your thoughtfulness and concern. Recovery is coming although slower than I’d like. It can’t be because of my age – can it?