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Mexican restaurant’s growth plans merit an ¡olé!

One thing that Albuquerque doesn’t lack is good New Mexican food. But Cielito Lindo, an Albuquerque-based restaurant, is something different.

The restaurant combines old-Mexico food with seafood and offers dishes like tampiqueña, aguachiles and chilaquiles. Don’t know what those are? Not to worry, the staff and owner German Peña-Rodriquez are happy to help.

The unfamiliarity of the menu is a refreshing addition to the enchiladas and chile rellenos that dominate the cuisine landscape of the Duke City. Although Cielito Lindo does offer those as well.

And now, Peña-Rodriquez is preparing for a major expansion with the goal of introducing these dishes to more of Albuquerque and Rio Rancho. Peña-Rodriquez is embarking on an ambitious expansion plan that will open three additional Cielito Lindo locations in the next year and a half.

“You are going to say I am crazy,” Peña-Rodriguez said. “But I don’t do this for money. I love to cook, but what I really want to do is meet people and make them happy.”

The original Cielito Lindo, at 416 San Pedro SE, has been open for roughly four years and in that time has developed a loyal following, according to Peña-Rodriquez.

The second location is planned for the development at 616 Lomas NW, which is being handled by Douglas Peterson, president of Peterson Properties. The new 1,300-square-foot restaurant is aimed at business lunch crowds, Rodriguez said.

“People dealing with computers and stress all day, I just want them to have a nice, relaxing spot for lunch,” Peña-Rodriquez said.

The third location will be at Central and 52nd NW with a fourth set to follow in Rio Rancho. Both are still in the planning stages, but all three new properties are being leased.

Peña-Rodriquez was not able to give an opening day for his second location.

Bento Sushi

Bento Sushi is coming to a shopping center at Wyoming and Paseo del Norte NE. (Taylor Hood/Albuquerque Journal)

Bento boxes and sushi are coming to the shopping center at Wyoming and Paseo del Norte NE.

Bento Sushi will be opening in the box formerly occupied by Rita’s Snow Cones.

Owners, Daniel Wayne and Thomas Mok feel it’s the perfect space. “We like the neighborhood and saw this as a good opportunity,” Wayne said. “This is a small space and we didn’t want big.”

Mok and Wayne have worked for years in various restaurants around Albuquerque and seized the chance to open a restaurant together. Mok has owned restaurants in the past, which he has sold, and Wayne worked in the China Garden restaurant on Montgomery NE.

The partners did extensive tenant improvements to the property and are still in the midst of construction. Opening a restaurant is a big task, Mok said. The restaurant is roughly 1,100-square feet but Wayne and Mok are planning on opening an outdoor patio in the near future.

“We want to make everything fresh and good for the neighborhood,” Mok said.

Bento Sushi is targeting a mid-July opening. “After the holiday,” Mok said.

Burger 21

Burger 21 specializes in high-end offerings in a bun. (Courtesy of Burger 21)

New restaurants continue to sign on at the redeveloping Winrock Town Center.

Sauce Pizza and Wine is taking applications and plans to open in the new building on the north side of the Winrock parking lot. And on the other end of that same strip center will be Albuquerque’s first Burger 21 restaurant.

Last year, the Tampa Bay, Fla.-based gourmet burger joint announced that it would be opening its first New Mexico location. In a news release last week it confirmed that Winrock Town Center will be its landing spot.

Burger 21 is owned by the same group that owns The Melting Pot, and so it is fitting that the first Burger 21 franchise in the Duke City will be owned by Chris Zalesiak, owner of the local Melting Pot franchise. The Melting Pot is located just across the street from Burger 21’s intended location, in the ABQ Uptown development.

Burger 21, which specializes in high-end burgers made from a range of products including beef, chicken and tuna, has plans for two other restaurants in Albuquerque, though specific locations have not been announced. The “casual, high-end” burger franchise currently has 27 locations either up and running or coming soon, according to the company website.

Though Burger 21 will not be unique in its niche, the wide variety of options may set it apart. Burger 21 offers, you guessed it, 21 different burger-related meals including the Tex-Mex Haystack, the Loaded Spud, the OMG!, and the Skinny.

Surrounding restaurants include BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse, Garduños, Romano’s Macaroni Grill, Genghis Grill, Dave & Buster’s, Takumi Sushi & Tappan and Firehouse Subs.

Anthony Johnson and Donnie Brainard of Pegasus Retail, the brokers handling leasing for the Winrock Town Center, said in the release they are “currently in discussions with numerous other national, regional and local restaurants which will occupy the planned ‘Park’ and ‘Restaurant Row’ phases; both located in front of the existing Regal Cinema.”

There is no word yet on when Burger 21 will begin hiring and signage has not yet gone up at the building on the southeast corner of Indian School and Uptown Loop NE.