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Humble excellence: Garcia’s Kitchen offers superb New Mexican food at bargain prices

Probably no restaurant in Albuquerque exemplifies New Mexican cuisine better than Garcia’s Kitchen, the humble and eclectic diner with six locations across town, and Garcia’s has been doing it for more than 40 years.

And perhaps no dish is more quintessentially New Mexican than the sopaipilla, the deep-fried triangular pastry that can double as an entree and a dessert.

On a recent visit to the Central Avenue location, I tried both versions. First, I ordered the stuffed sopaipilla ($7.50) with a twist – instead of taco filling, I opted for scrambled eggs and chorizo, with refried beans and fried potatoes on the side.

Just a couple of minutes after ordering, the plate arrived with the darkest, prettiest red chile I’ve ever seen. Not too hot, but with a distinct kick, Garcia’s red chile is as good as it gets. It smothered the stuffed sopaipilla and, when mixed with the fluffy scrambled eggs and finely ground chorizo, created the most delicious flavor combination.

The refried beans were also excellent, not too thick or too thin, with a fresh flavor. The potatoes were delicious, if slightly undercooked – which often happens when one tries to cook thick, fresh potatoes quickly – but it didn’t matter. The meal was excellent, memorable and filling.

The Garcia’s Kitchen on Central SW has a giant mural that features Looney Tunes characters. (Jason K. Watkins/For The Journal)

After the meal, I ordered a sopaipilla ($1) for dessert and was again treated to pure New Mexican flavor. The pillowy, flour-based pastry arrived fresh out of the fryer and smelled like the inside of a bakery. When I bit off a small corner to fill it with honey, the customary way to handle a sopaipilla, steam billowed out.

It was, simply, the best sopaipilla of my adult life. Sweet, fresh and almost tangy, it cost around a dollar.

Interestingly, sopaipillas and New Mexico itself share the same Spanish heritage stretching back hundreds of years. They were first created as a balance to spicy cuisine, as the sweetness counteracted the effects of hot chile. Thanks to the benevolent hands of time, sopaipillas have remained a staple in local cuisine, and thanks to restaurants like Garcia’s Kitchen, they aren’t going anywhere. Another benefit of New Mexico residency, you could say.

The biggest surprise of the meal came with the bill – a huge plate of authentic New Mexican food smothered in fresh Hatch red chile, breakfast potatoes and refried beans, plus a hot, fresh sopaipilla for dessert – as it cost just over $9.

Since the service was fantastic, the ambience was great, and the meal was delicious and filling, I left a 110% tip and promised to return.

Garcia’s Kitchen on Central Avenue has a private parking space with ample room, and it’s open seven days a week. It offers catering for special events and has an extensive children’s menu. “Family-size” portions are available for most entrees for feeding groups.

Few things say New Mexico quite like Hatch red chile, refried beans and a big, stuffed sopaipilla.

And few restaurants serve such delicious versions for less than $10.

Garcia’s Kitchen, then, might be one of the best diners in town.