The last time we were in Albuquerque was in February 2020. We were on an epic road trip to visit my parents who lived in Phoenix at the time. Booked at La Quinta near Interstate 25, we were greeted with the sight of people living and cooking dinner outside their car in the hotel parking lot.
The next morning, a man and woman were making quite a scene. Their camper had been broken into overnight and several items were stolen. Not unexpectedly, this didn’t leave me with a good impression of Albuquerque.
So why did we go back to Albuquerque, New Mexico?
Fast forward to March 2022, and I learned that I had just missed the National Fiery Foods & BBQ Show, held annually at the Sandia Resort & Casino in Albuquerque.
I knew that with the creation of TacosandPho.com in 2020, I had to go. If you’ve been here for any length of time or have joined the taco party at Tacos&Pho on Facebook, you know I’m a sucker for spicy food.
RELATED: Epic Christmas Road Trip
We went this past weekend and I’ve written about it at Living the Spicy Life at the Fiery Foods & BBQ Show.
Thankfully, after this two-night visit, my opinion of Albuquerque is now different. The reality is, every city has problems with crime and homelessness, and this one is no exception, but despite modern, big city problems, we proved that Alburquerque is a lot of fun.
We stayed at Sandia Peak Inn, a motel located on Route 66. It’s only a few blocks from Old Town Albuquerque and is perfectly situated to all the places we went to except for the Fiery Foods Show which was about 25 minutes north.
Even though our bed was a bit hard and cars on Route 66 revved their engines until 2 a.m. it only cost $211 for two nights. Plus, Sandia Peak Inn is clean, the rooms are spacious and the location is great.
By the way, the only agenda item was the show. We had no plans for this trip other than we knew we wanted to visit some breweries and I was going to eat tacos. Those two things were easy!
Albuquerque Aquarium, Botanic Garden & Zoo
The hotel is six minutes away from the ABQ BioPark which includes the zoo, botanic garden and aquarium. Just $14.50 gets a non-resident into the botanic garden and the aquarium so we went. We didn’t have time to add the zoo.
Honestly, I grew up just across the border from the Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park in Vancouver, British Columbia. So, I’ve been to one of the best aquariums in the world, many times. I also grew up next to the ocean, so I wasn’t expecting much from this landlocked aquarium, but although small, it’s pretty good.
We got to watch some of the most active turtles I’ve ever seen and I took a video of a playful otter. Plus, the large shark tank with a stingray and gigantic turtle is amazing. And if you can’t tell by all these video uploads, I love sea life!
Although it wasn’t the ideal time to tour a botanic garden, I could see this garden’s potential. I’d love to go back in the late spring. Even in March, there were a few flowers blooming. and the garden made for a nice walk before we headed off to the Fiery Foods Show.
If you’ve got time to kill, the ABQ BioPark is an affordable and fun way to spend a couple of hours.
Breaking Bad & The Candy Lady
We also visited The Breaking Bad Store in Old Town Albuquerque. If you’ve been living under a rock for the past 15 years, this was a show about a high school science teacher who finds out he has lung cancer. To make money for his family he decided to make and deal meth. Havoc ensues, as usually does when it comes to dealing drugs.
The show resulted in a spinoff that was wildly popular called “Better Call Saul.” We loved both shows, although I probably liked the latter, about an unscrupulous but loveable lawyer, best. Both shows were set in Albuquerque.
To be honest, I thought the store, which is also home to a growing museum, would be kind of touristy and stupid. I was wrong, as it is one of the best, random stops we made on this trip. The stop resulted in many photographs and a bag full of goodies for us and for friends who also love the shows. If you were a fan of either, GO!
While in the museum part of the Breaking Bad store, we heard a couple espousing the need for every visitor to Albuquerque to go to The Candy Lady store. I think Ryan just heard the word “candy” and decided he had to find it. After a long day at the show, etc., we found the shop in Old Town.
The store supplied the television series, “Breaking Bad” with those trays of “meth” during the first two seasons. Yes, it was actually candy. Debbie Ball, the shop owner, took a liking to Ryan and gave him samples of what seemed to be all the candy in the shop. He was in a kind of blissful sugary heaven and we left with a bag of candy plus several little bags of “meth” candy.
“Officer, I swear it is candy!”
NOTE: In no way am I endorsing meth use in this blog post. Meth use will make you ugly and eventually it will kill you. Don’t do it (unless it’s actually candy).
The Albuquerque area is home to forty-plus breweries. We made it to five on our two-night stay which I think was pretty good considering we did a lot more than drink beer.
We stopped at Marble Brewing, which felt a little like going into a club because they checked my ID and stamped my hand when we went in. I am a big fan of their logo and the beer is good. Also, a Mexican food truck serving tacos and more were stationed outside, but we weren’t hungry yet.
Gravity Bound Brewery was our next stop. They have an electric, five-barrel system and make some interesting beers. After enjoying a couple of hazy IPAs, we bought a crowler of the Garden Variety, “a fruited gose, conditioned on Palo Santo wood and fresh cut Basil, and finished off with a dose of sweet blackberry.” Garden Variety tastes of summer, and Gravity Bound has a sort of summery feel with a painted lizard on the wall and plants hanging from the ceiling.
Outside there was a food truck serving taco plates and other Mexican delights. Do you sense a food theme here? I do and I like it.
We also popped into Sidetrack Brewing Co. after taking in some of the downtown Art Walk on the streets of Albuquerque. Packed on a Friday night, surprisingly, we got bar seats. Sidetrack has a chill vibe and if I lived nearby this would be my local.
This time, we did get tacos from the truck out front, La Sirenita. Chicken, my least favorite taco meat, was the only protein left, but these tacos were tasty! And served with the hottest red sauce I have ever encountered at a taco truck or taco joint.
The next day, I had a taco from their truck again at La Cumbre Brewing on Girard Boulevard. La Cumbre has two locations and we’d been told to make sure to visit the one that houses their brewing system because it is the coziest. The two-story brewery is all wood and art and feels homey. We enjoyed it and this time I ordered a delicious birria taco from La Sirenita.
Because it was in the strip mall where Saul Goodman’s office is located in the show “Better Call Saul,” and I had to visit that spot to take a silly photo, we ducked into Lizard Tail Brewing.
This brewery feels like a neighborhood type of spot where everyone, except for us, knew everyone. We had just been to Fiery Foods so we ordered hot dogs and beer and we added some Jalapeno Salsa from Jumpin’ Jacks we’d just bought at the show to make them “fancy dogs.”
Old Town Albuquerque
There is something magical about Albuquerque’s Old Town. Maybe it is the history, perhaps it’s the pinkish stucco and hidden courtyards. Whatever the reason, I have to go back in the summer, sit on the patio at Church Street Cafe, and have a glass of wine.
I did have a “Christmas Style” breakfast burrito at the cafe. For those unfamiliar, Christmas Style means the burrito is smothered in red chile and green chile on opposite sides. One hasn’t really visited New Mexico properly until a Christmas Style burrito is ordered and consumed.
Before leaving town on a Sunday, we stopped briefly in front of the San Felipe de Neri Catholic Church, to chat with a parishioner. The church was built in 1706, and next door, the priest’s quarters were built in the 1800s. The man we spoke with knew a lot of Old Town history. It was a lovely chat in the sunshine with church bells ringing above us.
Unfortunately, every time we were in Old Town, most of the shops were closed, however, we did go into Santisima, Johnny Salas’s Dia de Los Muertos art gallery. This is the best Day of the Dead art gallery we’ve stumbled into during our travels (and those have taken us to Mexico). Colorful, whimsical, and amusing, I highly recommend that you find this gallery when you visit Albuquerque.
This doesn’t really fit in any of the above categories, so I’ll just tell you about it. Sandia Peaks Inn is a 10-minute walk from Monte Carlo Steakhouse & Liquor, also on Route 66. This is one of those places that has managed to survive since 1970, so don’t pass by. Any restaurants that can endure the ups and downs that come with owning a dining establishment and a pandemic, should be supported. We went in for a drink and an appetizer just before closing at 10 p.m.
Things I learned about Albuquerque, New Mexico:
Albuquerque puts green chile in everything, and I do mean everything. While laying in the motel bed one morning, I saw a commercial for a fish fast-food restaurant in town with green chile tartar sauce. I am not kidding. This is my kind of city!
On a side note, I really like pho, and my curiosity surrounding Albuquerque’s penchant for putting green chile in everything made me wonder how it would be in pho. So I bought some fresh green chiles at the grocery store and I am going to put them on pho instead of jalapenos. I’ll report back on my social media channels.
Californians have In-And-Out, Texans have Whataburger and New Mexicans have Blake’s Lotaburger. This burger chain, that started here, is everywhere in Albuquerque. Too tired to go out to dinner on Saturday night, we got burgers from Lotaburger. Surprise, surprise, they are served with green chile.
There are taco trucks outside every brewery. All but one brewery we visited had a taco truck outside. On two occasions, it was the same truck, different breweries. I am not sure if La Sirenita was following me or I was following it, either way, both times I got a taco.
I don’t know if this was a coincidence or not, but these were not the type of food trucks I am used to seeing. We have food trucks of every type of food in Colorado with a taco truck very occasionally in the mix. Quite frankly, when I am drinking beer I am happy to have a taco every time. Of course, I am always happy to have a taco (beer or no beer).
There are a lot of things that will take us back to Albuquerque; like the sunshine and the stucco. And while the city is home to about half a million people, it seems to flow at a slower pace. I like it a lot. Especially the green chile and tacos.