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Mac’s keeps it simple, nostalgic and tasty

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In 2012, Mac’s Steak in the Rough is celebrating 63 years in business. That means something in any era, whether you are thinking of places that open and close in a matter of months, or just working against the general economic downturn of the last several years.

Mac’s Steak in the Rough was started in Artesia in 1949 by Dave McCarty, who had just invented the Taquita and trademarked the word. By the early ’60s, Albuquerque got its Mac’s and, despite an ownership change to Fresquez Companies (who run the airport restaurants, among other things), not much about the menu has changed.

Sixty-three years is a lot even for a fast-food establishment, and Mac’s has not been spared from downsizing: there is one remaining location on Menaul, recently transformed from the dive of yore into a sparkling dining room in a new building.

Mac’s Steak in the Rough
LOCATION: 4515 Menaul NE
HOURS: 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. daily

Because Mac’s is and always was fast food, evaluation of the grub comes down to a few essential qualities – tastiness and good value. I’m happy to report Mac’s is both, from the overly sweet shakes to the near-perfect onion rings. The checkered paper underneath your order of Original Rough ($5.99) will take on grease from the steak fingers’ crispy coating, but that shouldn’t deter you from digging in while they’re hot. As with most fried foods, the crunch is not meant for long travel times – keep that in mind if ordering takeout.

Other essentials to your Mac’s experience are those famous taquitos, ordered as the Taquita Tusum ($2.79): the duo of crispy rolls is paired with both dipping sauce and guacamole. They hit the spot while triggering memories of childhood treat meals from decades ago.

Even if Mac’s (or Albuquerque, for that matter) wasn’t part of your childhood, those family outings are part of the American experience for many of us. Being a softie for crispy things, I had to try “New Mexico’s Favorite” Onion Rings ($1.49), and I’ll admit that I was impressed. No, they’re not the best onion rings I have ever had, but neither have I ever had edible onion rings for a buck-fifty.

As to those little strips of “Rough” – they are New Mexico’s own Southwestern (almost Texan) take on a chicken nugget. Like chicken nuggets, they are a whole different taste experience with sauce – in this case the rich cream gravy, a necessary add-on.

Take sips of your Chocolate Shake ($2.69) between bites to mitigate the crazy sweetness all the shake flavors contain.

The beef-averse have a good option in the Fish Sandwich ($3.99) with two planks of whitefish, tartar sauce and lettuce on a perfectly toasted bun. The low point of all meals was the french fries – both tough and soggy. Substitute onion rings or just scoop up the decent coleslaw and you’ll enjoy the meal more.