By Hillary Richard
June 08, 2015
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Credit: Courtesy of Los Poblanos Ranch

Albuquerque has always played second fiddle to Santa Fe when it comes to tourism. But now, the vibrant New Mexican city is experiencing a renaissance, thanks to its restaurateurs’ dedication to using healthy, locally sourced food in creative ways.

Albuquerque’s best restaurants run the gamut from family businesses to historic farms, but they have one thing in common: the owners and chefs can tell you exactly where their ingredients come from. More often than not, you can go outside and see for yourself.

New Mexican cuisine is actually quite healthy, and evolved over time as a blend of Anglo, Mexican, and Pueblo cultures. Similarly, many of Albuquerque’s food establishment owners developed their menus as an extension of their own health-conscious lifestyles. Here are five restaurants leading the charge:

El Pinto

For example, Jim and John Thomas, the identical twins who own and run El Pinto, eat at their restaurant every single day. The duo focuses on quality ingredients. They won’t put anything on the menu that they wouldn’t eat themselves, and research everything, right down to the healthiest way to filter tap water for guests.

The vegetable garden on El Pinto’s 13-acre property gives a new meaning to “local food”—the lettuce and salad herbs travel (by hand) mere feet into the restaurant’s kitchen. To keep their produce pesticide-free, El Pinto utilizes vermiculture, a natural gardening process by which worms break down organic waste and deliver beneficial microbes into the soil.

Golden Crown Panaderia

Pratt Morales, the vibrant and energetic septuagenarian owner of Golden Crown Panaderia, doesn’t mind putting extra work into his products in the name of health. His hand-mixed, chemical-free, complex-carbohydrate flours have earned the bakery a serious cult following—from both bodybuilders and cookie lovers alike. Whereas most breads contain one type of over-milled flour, Morales uses a mixture of 16 grains from traditional New Mexican products like blue corn and green chiles.

There are no walls between the bakers and the customers, so Morales—who is often in the back, hand-rolling dough alongside his son Christopher—is happy to jump out and discuss the nutritional benefits of every ingredient he uses. His establishment serves up everything from chemical-free salad greens (grown in an aquaponic garden) to several varieties of biscochitos, the official New Mexican state cookie.

La Merienda

La Merienda, the restaurant at Los Poblanos, calls its seasonal menu Rio Grande Valley cuisine, and claims to be “the most pure field-to-fork menu.” This expansive working organic farm was built in 1932 and has been in the Rembe family for three generations. Executive Director Matthew Rembe grew up on the property and now raises his family there, a choice that helps guide his menu choices. In addition to fruit groves, livestock, and vegetable fields, Los Poblanos grows and harvests its own lavender, featuring alongside local honey on the dessert menu.

The Standard Diner

Even the typical Route 66 diner in Albuquerque is healthier than most along that famous highway. While there are plenty of traditional comfort food dishes at The Standard Diner, the menu showcases some local produce, natural meats, and some creative vegetarian alternatives.

The Pueblo Harvest Café

In addition to its museum celebrating the 19 Pueblo tribes of the area, The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center is home to The Pueblo Harvest Café. This very popular indoor-outdoor restaurant uses ingredients from its on-site garden (that uses traditional farming techniques against the backdrop of the Sandia Mountains) and an horno (a traditional beehive-shaped outdoor mud oven) to bake fresh breads daily. Traditional Pueblo meals included wild game, pumpkin seeds, wild greens, blue corn, squash, and beans.

The organic ethos of these local businesses reaches beyond Albuquerquians and tourists. The Thomas brothers sell their El Pinto salsa (made in their organic-certified factory on-site at the restaurant) in select stores across the country. Orders for Morales’ wildly popular handmade bread sculptures at Golden Crown Panaderia come in from all over the US. (The turkey-shaped bread orders start coming in months before Thanksgiving.) Los Poblanos, which has 20 very in-demand guest rooms, has regular celebrity guests.