It’s a type of fusion – “South by Southwest” – that Albuquerque does well, and Matanza, on East Central near the University of New Mexico and at a newly opened location in Northwest Albuquerque, has perfected in a single dish.
But this isn’t a sweet Southern feast; Matanza’s version ($15) is pared-down and simple so the flavors stand out. Expect quality over quantity.
In fact, the plate is garnished with a fresh strawberry sliced and fanned out. That’s what kind of meal it is.
Still, the dish feels hearty, and you’ll probably have leftovers, thanks in part to the blue corn bread waffles at its base. They’re rich and dense, but not too sweet, crispy on the outside and moist and tender inside.
Even without chicken, this would be a good meal. The sauces served on the side, opposing local flavors such as pecans and red chile, make the dish an amazing sample of New Mexican cuisine.
But the Southern-style fried chicken, marinated in local peppers and then hand-breaded in a fantastic, flaky batter, make Matanza’s chicken and waffles a special meal.
The chicken is noticeably spicy, but the red chile-infused honey sauce served on the side made an interesting flavor combination – and probably focused the spice a little. The chicken was phenomenally good, and because it was paired with another surprising flavor courtesy of a pecan butter made with pecans grown in the state, the dish was unforgettable.
To counteract the heat, I ordered one of a hundred local brews Matanza has on tap – a staggering number of stouts and ales and lagers, all brewed in small batches somewhere in the state. The Project Dank Indian Pale Ale from La Cumbre Brewing Co. ($4 for a pint) was smooth and sweet, with a nice bitter aftertaste (7.5 percent alcohol content and a 100-plus bitterness rating, considerably high) and it went perfectly with the flavors in the entree.
The appetizer to try, before or even with your meal, is the Chile con Kobe ($7), a trendy take on the New Mexico staple chile con carne. Matanza’s was excellent – fresh and spicy with big chunks of sautéed beef definitely not imported from Japan but possibly from the same breed as the fabled Kobe beef delicacy. Blue and yellow corn chips are served on the side and freshly grated cheese comes on top. It’s a great appetizer to share, especially if you like spicy food. Mine came right before my meal, so the flavor combinations, all containing degrees of heat, became interesting.
The service at Matanza was great on a Monday afternoon, typically a slow day for restaurants, and parking wasn’t a problem. Dinner is not cheap, but considering the quality and the portions, it’s actually a good deal for a special occasion. There’s a small kids menu, but the yards-long taps lining the wall of the bar and big-screen TVs playing sports might discourage families with small children.
Still, Matanza is a great place for Southern and Southwestern fusion in the heart of Albuquerque, a short walk from the University of New Mexico and the hip, funky Nob Hill neighborhood.
The menus are slightly different (the West Side location features a smokehouse serving brisket and turkey and other meats), but both locations boast one of the best draft beer selections in the state.
And the food is uniquely modern, cross-cultural, and darned delicious.