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Rx for New Mexican: Duran Central Pharmacy specializes in traditional favorites

Duran’s might be the only place in Albuquerque one can go to refill a prescription, buy a watch and then eat a stuffed sopaipilla.

This city is known for unique dining in quirky atmospheres, but Duran Central Pharmacy is either a relic from the past or a portent from the future: instead of a big-box store like Target, Duran’s is a design-centric “small-box” store with a focus on quality, not quantity.

On a recent visit, I enjoyed some of the best traditional New Mexican cuisine in town, no prescription needed, served in a tiny kitchen alongside aisles of expertly curated wares.

For the full experience, I ordered the Duran’s combination plate ($11.95) and was treated to a huge serving of homemade and handmade classics: a delicious ground-beef taco, housed in a shell that was fried in-house (no prefabricated ingredients here), a giant, plump pork tamale smothered in red chile, a hand-rolled corn tortilla enchilada stuffed with Mexican cheeses and smothered in red chile, and a side of freshly made refried beans and Spanish rice.

The taco meat wasn’t packed with flavor, but a side of dark-red salsa added a powerful punch to it. The shell was excellent, as was the tamale; neither the pork filling nor the red chile on top was too hot to affect the meal, but the spicy salsa could easily get out of hand if too much were applied.

The enchilada was fantastic, probably one of the best in town, and the beans and rice were both top-notch, comparable to those of any budget Mexican eatery in town. The special of the day (Friday) was a stuffed sopaipilla ($5 a la carte), though, and I have a strict policy against passing up stuffed sopaipillas.

Duran’s was less stuffed and more smothered: instead of cutting open the sopaipilla, this place just piles it high with chicken (or beef), beans, cheese and red chile. The taste was phenomenal, almost too indulgent, like eating dessert for breakfast, but the small serving size made it somewhat guilt-free.

Duran’s red chile is simply fantastic. It’s not too hot, but it’s not weak, either, and the freshness is obvious: a label on the side of the chile containers proclaims that the stuff was made that day.

Duran Central Pharmacy is known for its New Mexican cuisine. (Jason K. Watkins/For The Journal)

The atmosphere is unique, but in a good way: The place is small, to be sure, with outdoor covered seating and enough room for a few dozen diners. The adjacent shopping opportunities provide a nice diversion while you’re waiting for your meal, and it’s a multitasker’s dream come true. You can refill a prescription, grab a bite to eat, and then pick up a birthday gift, all under one roof.

Service is great, and even during the lunch rush, seating didn’t seem to be in shortage.

The location is even better, just a few minutes from Downtown or a brief stroll from Old Town. Parking is plentiful, too, with a private lot for Duran’s patrons.

With convenience, novelty and versatility, Duran’s could probably command double the prices, but a hearty meal and a drink costs less than $14 here. And the food is fresh, not pre-made or squeezed out of plastic bags, so you’ll leave feeling satisfied but not overly stuffed, and you will undoubtedly return soon.

Affordable, local cuisine, a convenient concept and location, and excellent service at Duran’s Central Pharmacy are just what the doctor ordered.