These kid-friendly restaurants are a celebrated part of any trip to Albuquerque.
It’s been a long time since I have traveled to a place where the food was such a celebrated part of the trip. And I don’t think that I’ve ever been to a destination where a single ingredient was such a undisputed hero. Of course, I’m talking about chilies - both red and green. You’ll find them in just about everything, and they’ll vary in heat from restaurant to restaurant.
But New Mexican food isn’t the only cuisine to enjoy in Albuquerque. After all, Route 66 runs right through the city, so you’ll see a vibrant diner culture, as well. And of course, there's a strong Native American influence here. It all adds up to some amazing food experiences for your whole family.
Editor’s note: There seems to be a great debate about the correct spelling of this pepper. Is it chili or chile? Chilies or chiles? After much research, we’ve decided to go with the AP Stylebook on this one, so we’ll be writing chili and chilies.
Photo courtesy: Marble Street Studio
1050 Rio Grande Blvd. NW & 3 other locations
With four locations including one near Old Town, Range Cafe is one of the most family-friendly restaurants in Albuquerque. Your kids will love the whimsical décor with colorful painted balloons & cows hanging from the ceiling. The tables and chair are colorful, too; they’re designed by Ben Fogerty who’s sold furniture to famous folks like Randy Travis, James Taylor, and Joe Theismann. Speaking of famous people, look for the Range Cafe’s Wall of Fame with its signed plates. Can you guess the only celebrity to refuse to sign? Cameron Diaz.
But more importantly, let’s talk about the food! After exhaustive taste testing around Albuquerque, our KidTripster Teen insists Range Cafe has the best tacos: white corn tortillas, braised beef, spicy slaw, cotija cheese, and ancho chile crema served with arroz verde, black beans, and salsa verde. While my son loved the spicy salsa here, my tastebuds preferred the more subdued red chili sauce, my favorite of the trip. And the desserts… don’t get me started! Our friendly waiter served us the largest cream puff that I’ve ever seen, but it was the moist Chocolate Roadhouse Cake with chocolate fudge frosting that had my mouth watering. Seriously, it was the best chocolate cake that I’ve tasted in years. $$
KidTripster Tip: Range Cafe has a really good kids’ menu that goes beyond the norm.
2/Church Street Cafe
2111 Church St. NW
From the outside, you’d never guess the intriguing story that lies within Church Street Cafe in Albuquerque’s Old Town. Known as Casa de Ruiz, the building is thought to be the oldest residence in the city, dating back to the early 1700s. Look at the exposed brick on the wall in the back dining room. It was originally an exterior wall built from terrones, a type of adobe brick used prior to 1820. Generations of the Ruiz family lived here until 1991; in fact, the last owner’s grandmother is buried under one of the dining rooms! When you go, ask to have Alfonso as your server; I’d go so far as to recommend calling ahead to find out if Alfonso is working during the time you’d like to dine. He’s fantastic and may even give you a tour of the property.
Oh, did I mention that the authentic Mexican food is delicious, too?! My son recommends ordering chips and salsa… even if you’re eating breakfast! The salsa is award-winning. $$
KidTripster Tip: The restaurant is so much bigger than you’d expect. Make your way to the very back to sit on the shaded patio.
320 Central Ave. SE
Guy Fieri of Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins and Drives was right to give a shout-out to Standard Diner, an anything-but-average eatery located in downtown Albuquerque along famed Route 66. Started by three brothers - Matt, Cris, and Vince DiGregory - the restaurant takes creative license in giving traditional comfort food a unique and utterly delicious twist. I have to admit that the bacon-wrapped meatloaf was better than my grandmother’s, and the garlic Brussel sprouts will have your kids begging to eat their vegetables. And for dessert, the goat cheese blackberry cheesecake with New Mexican pistachios was absolutely divine. $$
KidTripster Tip: If you order dessert first, you’ll get 10% off your entire bill. Why not, you’re on vacation!
KidTripster Tip: Eat lunch on Friday and get a free cookie with the purchase of an entrée.
KidTripster Tip: Make sure to read the fun facts section on the back of the menu, especially the part about what really happened when Guy Fieri taped an episode of his show in this restaurant.
4/Golden Crown Panaderia
1103 Mountain Rd. NW
In 1972, Pratt Morales started Golden Crown Panaderia, a neighborhood Mexican bakery near Old Town; his son Chris literally grew up in the family business. Now the father-son team runs something truly special together.
KidTripster Tip: Every customer gets a biscochito, the New Mexico state cookie, just for walking through the door.
Let’s start with dessert! In the glass cases, you’ll find a wide variety of traditional Mexican sweets and fruit-filled empanadas based on a 200-year-old recipe. Good luck choosing just one! Pair that with a freshly brewed coffee or latte; the beans are roasted in the kitchen.
Or if you stop for lunch, try a sandwich made from Pratt’s green chili bread. My son raved about it! Or order a blue corn-crusted pizza; the blue corn comes from the Santa Ana Pueblo about 20 miles north of Albuquerque. And unlike most neighborhood bakeries, Golden Crown Panaderia has several local brews on tap. Sit on the outdoor patio and enjoy! Depending on the day, you may even be treated to live music. $
KidTripster Tip: If you get the chance to strike up a conversation with Pratt, you’ll find that he’s a character. Don’t be surprised if you hear a Ted Talk from this 80-year-old baker sometime soon.
1919 Old Town Rd. NW
Conveniently located in Old Town, BackStreet Grill offers a lighter and healthier take on traditional Mexican dishes. It’s Southwest Baja cuisine takes advantage of fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. Try the BackStreet Supreme Mexican pizza loaded with smoked pork shoulder, corn and black bean relish, pineapple pico de gallo, green chilies, toasted pumpkin seeds, cilantro, and cotija cheese. Warning: those chilies are spicy, so if you’re a lightweight like me, skip the chilies. The Baja shrimp burrito is another favorite. And if you order guacamole, your server will make it on your table. It doesn’t get fresher than that! $$
KidTripster Tip: BackStreet Grill has a outdoor patio that can accommodate large groups.
6/Farm & Table
8917 4th St. NW
Farm & Table is an incredibly inviting restaurant for families. The outdoor patio area with its flowers and fountain is definitely in the running for my “best in Albuquerque” list (no small feat considering nearly every restaurant in this city has an outdoor space), but do make reservations if you want to sit there. The tables are set with flowers from the garden behind the restaurant. You’ll also find a greenhouse and farm, tended by the restaurant’s farmer-in-residence Ric Murphy of Sol Harvest. Many of the ingredients come from the farm and are used in the scratch-made dishes; the rest are sourced from the local area. My eggs Benedict was perfectly executed. My teenaged son ordered breakfast tacos, because why wouldn’t you eat tacos for breakfast! And I can’t neglect to compliment Farm & Table for having a shaded play area in back of the restaurant for young kids to enjoy. Well done! $$
KidTripster Tip: The patio area is dog-friendly.
10500 4th St. NW
El Pinto, meaning The Spot, has a 53-year-old tradition of serving authentic, green chili-based cuisine that helped put New Mexican food on the map. Its other claim to fame? El Pinto is the largest restaurant in the state with capacity to serve a thousand people! However, you wouldn’t know it. Despite its size and ability to handle large groups, El Pinto has divided the property into smaller, more intimate spaces including five beautifully landscaped patios with rows of hanging chilies and an impressive tequila bar with a selection of more than 160 tequilas. Can you say margarita?!
KidTripster Tip: Can’t decide on a tequila? Order a sample flight.
KidTripster Tip: If you dine on a Tuesday or Thursday night during the summer, you can enjoy live music on the outdoor patio stage.
Started by their parents, twins Jim and John Thomas now run the family business based on recipes created by their grandmother. In fact, the restaurant’s salsa became so popular, the brothers - known as the Salsa Twins - expanded the business. El Pinto Foods now produces 3 to 4 million jars of fire-roasted green chili sauce and salsa for grocery stores across the country each year.
KidTripster Tip: Pick up a jar while you’re at the restaurant. Recipes are available online.
Of course, you’re still wondering about the food. Well, that’s pretty darn good, too! El Pinto’s red chili ribs have actually been featured on Food Network. But a word of warning: whatever you decide to order, get your red or green chili sauce on the side, just in the case the heat is too much. $$
KidTripster Tip: If you really want to order like a local, get “Christmas on the side.” At any restaurant in New Mexico, this expression means that you’d like both red and green chilies but on the side as opposed to smothered on your entrée.
Fun Fact: El Pinto uses only pasture-raised eggs in its dishes. To accomplish this, the restaurant has a “hen hotel” on the property with 200 laying hens. So go ahead, order the huevos rancheros and keep the girls busy!
2400 Central Ave. SE
Since 1971, Frontier Restaurant has been an Albuquerque institution. Located across the street from the University of New Mexico, it’s a favorite of hungry, late-night college students which explains why it’s open nearly every day from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m.
It’s a go-to for both breakfast and New Mexican food. We highly recommend the red and green chili enchiladas… because it’s New Mexico, and you need to have chilies at every meal! And save room for Frontier’s legendary cinnamon rolls which are as big as your head. $
KidTripster Tip: Don’t be put off if you see a line. The restaurants seats 300 customers in five dining rooms. You place your order at the counter here, so the line goes quickly.
KidTripster Tip: What’s up with the Duke? You’ll notice portraits of John Wayne throughout the restaurant. The owner is a big fan.
4803 Rio Grande Blvd. NW
Campo in a casual, fine dining restaurant located at Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm, one of KidTripster’s highly recommended stays in Albuquerque. But even if you’re not an overnight guest of the property, it’s totally worth driving here for breakfast or dinner. Executive Chef Jonathan Perno is multi-year James Beard semifinalist for Best Chef in the Southwest, specializing in Rio Grande Valley cuisine that sources ingredients from the on-site farm in addition to other local farmers and herdsmen. The dinner experience is probably best reserved for your foodie teenagers who can appreciate entrées priced between $20 and $43. Younger diners will feel more comfortable eating at Campo for breakfast where they can sit on the patio and wait for the resident peacocks to arrive. Reservations are strongly suggested for dinner. $$$
KidTripster Tip: During lavender season (June-July), the restaurant hosts special lavender-inspired dinners because Los Poblanos is a working lavender farm.
2401 12th St. NW
One of the most unique dining experiences that you’ll find in Albuquerque is at Pueblo Harvest inside the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. Among other choices, the restaurant offers a Pre-Contact menu, meaning food as it was before the arrival of Europeans. Start with a salad of amaranth leaves and seeds, wild spinach, smoked wild mushrooms, and candied pepitas. Both the red chili vinaigrette and green chili ranch are incredibly tasty. Main dishes include a rich, sumac-seared bison carpaccio and slow-cooked goose rillettes with a fried quail egg and blueberry compote. If your children are foodies, they’ll love this meal. Admittedly, dinner is pricey with entrées running $25 to $36, but there’s an equally good breakfast and lunch menu for less money. $$$
KidTripster Tip: You can eat at Pueblo Harvest without paying admission to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. Best to make a reservation for dinner.
KidTripster Tip: All the pre-contact choices are gluten-free.
KidTripster Tip: When it comes to dessert, opt for the post-contact selections instead.
For KidTripster’s Top 10 Plays in Albuquerque, click here.
For KidTripster’s Top 10 Stays in Albuquerque, click here.
Editor Shellie Bailey-Shah admits to being a lightweight when it comes to chili heat. However, she found not ever chili sauce requires a gallon on water. Her advice: order “Christmas on the side.”
Photo courtesy: Catlin Cano
This writer received some complimentary meals for the purpose of this review. However, all opinions expressed are solely her own.