Monday, April 16, 2007

Travel: Southwest (AZ and NM)

Williams, AZ (near Grand Canyon): Pine Country Restaurant

If you're going to the Grand Canyon then you know the main towns nearby are Williams or Flagstaff. We stayed in Williams on our way to the Canyon on our trip from California to New Mexico. The most appealing restaurant near our motel was the Pine Country Restaurant.

As you can tell from the recipes I cook, I'm not really into American food. Especially not country food. However, I know a lot of people love some good country cookin'. This restaurant is THE place to go for some American home-style food. The prices are incredible. My mom ordered a 2 pork chop meal for only $8.99 (including sides). She said the chops were cooked perfectly. They also specialize in pies. We took home a slice of apple pie for breakfast and it was still really good that next morning. The service was great in the restaurant as well. I didn't even mind the picnic-style tables because they were new-ish and clean. Just remember that you need to arrive early because there are a TON of tourists eating there who just came from or are headed to the Grand Canyon.

The Grand Canyon

The reason for our trip was to check out some property that my Grandpa owns near Albuquerque that he's never seen. Strange, I know. So my mom and I thought it would be an adventure to take a road trip to see exactly what my Grandpa got himself into. Before we checked out the property we had to pick up some paperwork in a nearby town called Belen. This is the biggest town in the area and it was soooo tiny. There was no where to eat in that area except for a few chains that I was not interested in trying. Apparently Blake's Lottaburger is a big chain in that part of New Mexico. They also had a Teriyaki Chicken in Foil. Needless to say, Belen was not my kind of town and I chose to wait until dinner to eat.

Blake's Lotaburger
Albuquerque, New Mexico: Flying Star Cafe

After at least an hour of roaming the city for a place to eat that didn't smell bad and wasn't touristy, my mom and I came across the college district. The best tip for travellers is to find the university area for cheap and often times, tasty eats. We debated between a pizza and Mexican place but decided to eat at the Flying Star Cafe where they had a diverse menu.

In the front of the restaurant is a bakery with cake, pies, pastries, bagels, and the biggest cream puffs you've ever seen. We were tempted but only got 2 almond croissants and a cookie for the next day (the croissants were dried out the next day but the cookie was decent).

Fortunately the meals were delicious. Everything is homemade and fresh. My mom ordered fish and chips that were surprisingly great. The fish was crisp but not dry, the fries tasty, and the coleslaw just right. My turkey panini-style sandwich came with green chiles (I had to get something with a southwest flair) and turkey cut straight off the roast. It was almost too rich, the turkey was that good. The potato salad on the side was also made just right (old fashioned, chunky, without too much mayo and it had a lot of fresh veggies in it). I loved the meals so much that I wish we had another day in Albuquerque just so I could go there. Everything was really affordable, too.

I learned from our trip that when you have trouble finding good eats in an unfamiliar town, look for the college area and you're sure to find something good. If we hadn't found the Nob Hill area we might have been out of luck. Albuquerque is not exactly a foodie town. I actually found the city to be fairly dismal. To each his own, I suppose.

Southwest Turkey Sandwich with Potato Salad
Fish and Chips in Albequerque
Killian at the Flying Star Cafe Baby Killian at Flying Star Cafe

Ho Ho Chinese FoodOne of Albuquerque's eateries that we chose not to try.

Santa Fe, New Mexico: Blue Corn Cafe

Our experience in Santa Fe was similar to our experience in Albuquerque but for a different reason. Santa Fe is a wonderful town with beautiful architechture and a lot to do (and eat!). However, it appeared that many of the restaurants in the museum area were located upstairs or were too fancy. This is a problem when you have a four-month old. It's also a problem when it's snowing and you didn't pack for cold weather (so you look kind of disheveled).

Again we spent hours looking for a place to eat. Finally we managed to get the stroller upstairs (not as easy as it sounds with my chubby baby) so we could eat at the Blue Corn Cafe. They seemed to have some local meals to sample which was my goal for our trip.

Our chips and guacamole appetizer was perfect. The blue corn chips were my favorite and it came with salsa (made exactly the way I like it). I love chips that are super thin, crispy, and made fresh. I hadn't had chips that good in a while. Usually when we go to a Mexican restaurant I don't like the chips or the salsa (one or the other).

I ordered a grilled chicken sandwich with a honey chipotle glaze and carmelized onions. Normally I'm hesitant about ordering chicken sandwiches because restaurants tend to dry out the chicken. This sandwich was fantastic. I'm determined to recreate their glaze at home.

My mom had one of their Mexican combos which was very good and perfect for the chilly day (it snowed while we ate). Her rootbeer was great, too. Apparently they make their own. It has a great home brewed flavor and was barely carbonated which we both liked better because it gave you more room to eat!

Blue and Yellow Corn chips with Guac and Salsa
Chicken Honey Chipotle Sandwich with Carmelized Onions Blue Corn Cafe in Santa Fe
On our way back to Albuquerque from Santa Fe we wanted to stop by the Whole Foods we saw but missed it so we stopped at a natural grocery store instead. It was one of the most impressive natural food stores I've been to. They had all sorts of nuts, grains, homeopathic supplies, etc. By the register they had some sweet empanadas that we bought for our trip. My mom had the cherry one and I had an apple. They were made by a bakery called Chocolate Maven that I will definitely go to if I ever return to Santa Fe. These sweet empanadas were some of the best pastries I've ever had. Not only that but they couldn't have been that fresh. It was evening when we bought them and we didn't eat them until the next day!

I just checked Chocolate Maven's website (see link above) and they have been featured on the food network by Giada De Laurentiis. I would love to check out their cafe as well during my next visit.

Sedona, AZ: El Rincon Restaurante Mexicano and NY Bagels & Deli

Red Rocks of Sedona
My visit to Sedona was way too short. We were there for dinner and briefly for breakfast (but we stayed in Cottonwood). It has to be one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to (even compared to Yosemite). No wonder it's a huge tourist spot.

As always, I was starved (my mom doesn't ever seem to "need" to eat) and desperate for some good southwest food. We settled on El Rincon restaurante because it was nearby and had good reviews. I'm not sure who reviewed this place, though. The chips and salsa were okay but not great. My mom's sweet tamale and beef taco were pretty good (she thought it was the lightest tamale she's ever had). I had half her taco and while it was good, I've had better in California. My shrimp taco was the grossest meal I've received at a restaurant in a long time. The shrimp looked like they had been boiled and the shredded cheddar didn't go at all. I've had a lot of good shrimp tacos and I really didn't think they could be butchered this badly. I was wrong. It was so gross I couldn't even eat it. Fortunately we had ordered a side of Navajo fry bread (I had only had it at a friends house and never at a restaurant so we had to try it before we got back to Cali). The bread was pretty good but I remembered it tasting better at my friend's house.

So if you stick to the tamales and tacos (and possibly Enchiladas which they seem to specialize in) then you'll be fine. However, if you're picky like me then don't even bother going there. Sedona has many other fine restaurants to choose from.

Navajo Fry Bread

Shrimp Taco

The next morning we were supposed to get on the road back to CA but we had to drive through Sedona one last time for the view and to pick up breakfast. Since we didn't have time to stop at a restaurant we went to a NY deli and bakery (called New York Bagels & Deli) figuring it would do. It didn't just "do" rocked! The bagels were perfect, the hoagies divine, the Elephant Ears/Palmiers the best I've ever had, and the cookies were as well. I still wish I had ordered one of their eclairs. The best part is that it was all cheaper than a deli in NY (or LA for that matter). The prices didn't match the excellent taste.

I love it when you find a great NY deli in the desert. That happened to me once in Palm Springs. I guess it's because a lot of New Yorkers tend to retire where it's warm, like the southwest or Florida.


So if you happen to be driving across the Southwest I recommend you plan your stops ahead of time. There aren't a lot of places to eat along the 40 (unless you like chains). Usually I plan ahead and the one time I didn't made travelling difficult for me. Hopefully my experience can help at least one other person. If you're going to or through Albuquerque, Santa Fe, or Sedona you now have at least one place where you can eat!

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