Unlike Famous Dave’s or other chains with deep pockets and lower overheads, the Quarters doesn’t have the money for billboards and fancy commercials. It serves some of the city’s best barbecue, without pretense or gimmicks, and with more attention to detail than any chain restaurant in town, but its chain competition beats it in traffic every day of the week.
That is a shame on many levels, the least of which is the culinary level – the Quarters serves fresh, high-quality meat and homemade sides made to order, while chains serve prepackaged ingredients and cut every corner they can. Locals are sending their money to corporations out of state and getting low quality in return.
The barbecue is fantastic, among the best in Albuquerque. The Quarters is the real deal, authentic, sweet Texas-style barbecue cooked low and slow for tender, amazing flavor. The beef brisket is cooked so slow, and loaded with so much barbecue sauce, it’s more like shredded beef than a single cut of meat. The flavor is amazing: sweet and rich but not hot or salty, authentically smoky and the perfect consistency. This is exactly how Texas barbecue brisket should be.
The pork spare ribs were also excellent, tender to the point the meat fell off the bone. The ends of the rib meat were flame-seared, so it had a great caramelized taste and texture. The plate came with eight or so spare ribs, and in combination with the brisket, it could easily feed two people, or one person a couple of times. Neither the brisket nor the ribs were particularly fatty or marbled, but both had been cooked so long at such a low temperature that the texture was lean and incredibly flavorful. (If you’re a fan of fat or gristle, you can request a special cut.)
The sides were just as good as the barbecue itself, outstanding in flavor and freshness. The loaded baked potato was hot out of the oven and perfectly mushy, loaded with thick butter and sour cream, then sprinkled with a generous portion of chopped bacon and fresh chives. It wasn’t huge, but it was a perfect baked potato.
The sweet dinner roll served on the side was also good but small and baked fresh, and it made me think that a fresh slab of green chile cornbread served with every meal would earn this place a Michelin star in my book.
The best side, though, was the corn, described on the menu as “corn,” perhaps the greatest undersell in restaurant history. This was a bowl of grilled or roasted sweet corn, maybe both, cut from the husk and served humbly in a bowl balancing off the plate. This bowl of corn is possibly the best I’ve ever had, maybe second only to freshly roasted corn at county fairs, and superior to that of any high-end restaurant in its simplicity and flavor. A flawless side dish, it is worthy of any corn-based award that might (and surely does) exist.
Another selling point, and no surprise, considering its side trade in packaged liquor, is the Quarters’ extensive row of microbrew taps. I counted nearly 30 beers, local, national and international. Disoriented, maybe, but not disappointed.
The barbecue’s fantastic, but that’s not to say the Quarters couldn’t improve the front of the house to make it more welcoming: For starters, the entrance isn’t obvious or easy to find, because the building is split between the restaurant and a package liquor store. The atmosphere is more Texas honky-tonk than family restaurant, even though several families with young kids were dining there during my visit. The vaulted ceilings give the place a banquet-hall feel, but even with skylights and windows with blinds, the place felt dark. It was also quiet, so quiet I could hear the wait staff talking at the bar.
The food, though, is perfect. A $20 plate of smoking-hot barbecue with homemade sweet barbecue sauce and two ridiculously good sides is more than worth the money. The place is covered in big-screen TVs playing sports and jerseys from New Mexico athletic teams, so when football season starts, you couldn’t find a better spot to watch a big game.
Just be sure to enter on the north side of the building, through a nondescript entrance that feels a little like an emergency exit. When you leave, you’ll embrace the uniquely Albuquerque design quirks and be glad you chose to keep your hard-earned money in town. And afterward, you won’t be hungry for hours.
3 1/2 stars