“What did we learn this year, boys and girls?”
Well, I learned:
-that I am not a comfortable mountain driver, and since we have spent a lot of time in the mountains, Chuck has spent a lot of time driving.
-that I like the idea of small towns, but am at heart a city girl. I need a variety of restaurants and grocery stores with more than five aisles.
-that mountains are majestic, but nothing is more beautiful than the desert in the spring when the wildflowers are blooming.
-that it is no fun to get sick in a strange city.
-that I have a love/hate relationship with trees. Sure, camping under the trees sounds bucolic, but have you ever tried to maneuver a twenty-three foot truck with a thirty-eight foot RV attached around trees? And even worse, the canopy of branches plays havoc with satellite reception.
And now we move to Day Two of “The Best of 2009-2010.”
In the Starters Category
Best “Free” Nibbles: First—the tapenade with black and green olives, roasted red peppers, capers, garlic, and olive oil at Barrio Café in Phoenix (3/20); Second—the cilantro pesto at The Ocotillo Café in Tucson (1/23); Third –the fiery salsa at the Pepper Pot in Hatch, NM (3/5).
Best Plates that Could be a Meal: First—the Assiette Paysanne (assortment of French pâtés and cheese and sausage) served with a salad La Crepe Michele in Albuquerque (5/31); Second—the Artisan Nosh at the St. Claire Winery and Bistro in Albuquerque (12/9/); Third—the Combo Meze at The Cypress Café in Durango, CO (6/17).
Best Appetizer: First—the Asian Shrimp (crisp lightly-battered shrimp with a sweet chili sauce served on a bed of lettuce and rice noodles) at the Asian Noodle Bar in Albuquerque (11/23) and especially good when paired with our next choice; Second—the Gyoza dumplings at Asian Noodle Bar (11/23); Third—the green chile cheese wontons with pineapple jalapeno salsa at Pepper’s Café in Las Cruces, NM (3/2); Fourth—the Salmon Paté at La Crepe Michele in Albuquerque (6/3); Fifth—the almond prawns with tequila-lime sauce at Orange Blossom Junction in Exeter, CA (8/8).
Best Clam Chowder: First—the rich and creamy chowder that is based on a New England recipe (and the best food we ate during our month in Oregon) at the Driftwood Inn in Cannon Beach, OR (9/16); Second—Houston’s in Scottsdale (1/12).
Best Soup: First—the black bean soup with pork shreds, celery, onions, carrots, red bell peppers, and seasoned with cumin at the Prescott Brewery in Prescott, AZ (3/16); Second—the black bean soup at Shelby’s Bistro in Tubac, AZ (2/12); Third—the hot and sour soup at Hunan Home’s in San Francisco (8/15); Fourth—the creamy chicken tortilla soup at the Ocotillo Café in Tucson (2/19).
Best Guacamole: the chunky guacamole with avocado, tomato, onion, cilantro, lime, and pomegranate seeds at the Barrio Café in Phoenix (3/20).
Best Calamari: First (a tie)—the crisp and perfectly cooked rings and tentacles at Andreoli Italian Grocer in Scottsdale (4/13) and the crispy calamari with Asian slaw and lemon-grass coconut vinaigrette at Ken & Sue’s in Durango, CO (6/21); Second—Pepper’s Café in Las Cruces, NM (3/2); Third—Don & Charlie’s in Scottsdale, AZ (3/15); Fourth—Foster’s Big Horn in Rio Vista, CA (8/11).
Best Beverage: First – the pineapple basil lemonade at Café a la C’Arte in Tucson (1/19); Second – the blueberry thyme lemonade at Café a la C’Arte (3/19); Third—the prickly pear lemonade at Café a la C’Arte (2/19); Fourth—the prickly pear ice tea at Ocotillo Café in Tucson (1/23); the green river and cherry phosphates at MacAlpine’s in Phoenix (4/13).
Best Mexican/New Mexican Food
Best Green Chile: First—Sophia’s Place in Albuquerque (11/21); Second—Mary &Tito‘s in Albuquerque (11/30); Third—Jerry’s Café in Gallup, NM (5/11); Fourth—The Pepper Pot in Hatch, NM (3/5); Fifth—Earl’s in Gallup (5/3); Sixth—La Tres Campanas in Santa Fe (5/15).
Best Red Chile: First—The Pepper Pot in Hatch (3/5); Second—Mary & Tito’s in Albuquerque (11/30); Third—Grandma’s K & I Diner in Albuquerque (11/19); Fourth—Tecolate Café in Santa Fe (5/31).
Best Chile Relleno: First—the crisp, battered, and fiery chile relleno at Mary and Tito’s in Albuquerque (11/30); Second—the carne seca stuffed chile relleno at El Charro in Tucson (1/17); Third – the giant chile relleno at Grandma’s K & I Kitchen in Albuquerque (11/19).
Best Hot Dog: First—the Sonoran Dog on a soft sweet bun filled with a bacon-wrapped hot dog, beans, tomato, mayo, mustard, and jalapeño sauce at El Guero Canelo in Tucson (2/3); Second—the red chile smothered dog at the Dog House in Albuquerque (11/29).
Best Enchiladas: First—the black mole chicken enchiladas that were served without rice or beans at The Barrio Café in Phoenix (3/20); Second—the chicken Suizas with a creamy sauce at The Barrio Café in Phoenix; Third—the Old Fashioned Handmade enchiladas on a masa base at Mi Nidito in Tucson (2/5).
Best Stuffed Sopaipilla: First—the ground beef, refried beans, guacamole stuffed sopaipilla topped with green chile at Jerry’s Café in Gallup (5/11); Second—the ground beef and whole bean sopaipilla with green chile at Mary & Tito’s in Albuquerque (11/30).
Best Sopaipilla: First—the light and crisp sopaipillas at Las Tres Campanas in Santa Fe (5/15); Second—Jerry’s Café in Gallup (5/11).
Best Mexican/New Mexican Restaurant: First – Mary & Tito’s in Albuquerque (11/30); Second – Jerry’s Café in Gallup, NM (5/11); Third – Las Tres Campanas in Santa Fe (5/15); Fourth – The Barrio Café in Phoenix (3/20).
Best Everything Tastes Better when Served on a Roll or Bun
Best Cheeseburger: First—the burger with a skirt, the Big Cheese Squeeze, at the Squeeze Inn in Sacramento (8/19); Second—the “Deluxe” cheeseburger at Bing’s Burger Station in Cottonwood, AZ (4/17); Third—the half-pound burger at Haunted Hamburger in Jerome, AZ (4/22).
Best Green Chile Cheeseburger: First—the ten-ounce behemoth cooked “pink through and through” at Bobcat Bite in Santa Fe (11/16); Second—the “Lumpy” and the “Plumpy” at Lumpy’s in Albuquerque (6/2); Third—the Flamethrower at Harla May’s Fat Boy Grill in Belen, NM (2/26).
Best Veggie Burger (and Chuck’s Burger of the Year): the black bean burger made with whole and mashed beans, corn, diced red pepper, and cumin and served on a ciabatta roll with pepper jack cheese and sautéed red onion at Shelby’s Bistro in Tubac, AZ (2/12).
Best Sandwich: First (three way tie)—the tomato, fresh mozzarella, and basil on focaccia (Campoini del Mondo), the pork roasted with fennel with black pepper on Italian roll (Porchetta), and the prosciutto with fresh mozzarella, avocado, and tomato on Italian roll (Saparito)—all at Andreoli’s in Scottsdale; Second—the bresola, rustic cheese, arugula, and black pepper sandwich at Pane Bianco in Phoenix (1/1); Third—the French dip at Houston’s in Scottsdale (1/12); Fourth—the Cuban at Café a la C’Arte in Tucson (1/19).
Best Pork Tenderloin Sandwich: First—the third-of-an-inch, thick-battered and deep-fried pork tenderloin with avocado, lettuce, tomato, and wasabi mayo at Texas Lil’s in Temecula, CA (9/22).
Best Chicken Fried Steak: First—the two-piece, double-dipped, and deep-fried sandwich on a sesame seed roll at TexAZ in Phoenix (1/13); Second – the crispy fried steak served with great mashed potatoes at Texas Lil’s in Temecula (9/22).
Tomorrow: The final installment of the Best of 2009-10.
Photos 1-3 -- Scenes enroute from Flagstaff, AZ, to Gallup, NM.
Photos 2-12 -- Flowers from several points between Gallup and Santa Fe, NM.