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Unusual flavors well worth Madrid trip

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In the nonexistent competition for longest restaurant name in New Mexico, a little gourmet spot in Madrid is certainly a contender.

Minimal pressure, friendly shopkeepers and a down-home feel are a big part of what makes Madrid fun, from galleries to jewelry shops. But when it comes to food, the choice often boils down to having classic bar fare at the Mineshaft or going the high road at the spot right next to the coffee shop: Mama Lisa’s Ghost Town Kitchen and No Pity Cafe.

Whether you go for the spiced peanut soup or the small-town funky décor, it is an experience worth every syllable.

Mama Lisa’s Ghost Town Kitchen and No Pity Cafe
LOCATION: 2859 N.M. 14 in Madrid, 505-471-5769
HOURS: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. daily through summer; call first

In recent years, the hours have gotten a bit more stable, a welcome relief from the trips I’ve taken through town in the past when it always seemed like they were closed up for the day (or week, or month). Now most of the time you can breeze through a few gallery stops and buy new earrings at the silver shop, finishing up with a saunter over to the cafe. Even in warmer months the African Peanut Soup ($3.95) is worth ordering if available, with subtle peanut flavor coming through each rich spoonful. Other curried soups are equally fantastic, from butternut squash to kale.

While filling, the soup shouldn’t deter you from some of the best enchiladas this side of the gourmet spectrum, with fillings from chicken to spinach to locally raised beef. They’re ladled with mild but flavorful chile and rounded out by perfectly cooked pinto beans ($10.75 with meat, $9.25 vegetarian). I like to forgo the typical cheese drape to focus on the well-seasoned ingredients, but of course, cheese is popular with most folks.

Hand-formed burgers also are also quite tasty if you’re a fan of ciabatta bread, whose sourdough attributes can be strong compared to the standard potato bun. Personally, I like the chewy texture against the tender patty with classic cheese and green chile, though mild in heat.

Every moderately aspirational restaurant on the planet seems to have a salad with beets and goat cheese, and Mama Lisa’s is no exception. The Beet Salad with Chevre ($9.75) is substantial with the addition of walnuts to the cheese and ruby-red beets, just enough for a light eater’s meal.

Many of the dishes mentioned so far are regular menu items, but a daily revolving specials list highlights the produce of the week and the inspiration at the stove. If something sounds good, it probably is. Not long ago one of the special sandwiches featured bison brisket and crispy onions, or an entrée of turkey apricot meatloaf – it makes me wish I was there that day.

Regardless, each day has at least a few items worth agonizing over, so just pick one and vow to return. Then save a little room for something sweet, even if it is a simple oat cookie or a piece of strudel, or a little more complex like red chile chocolate cake ($3.95) or house-made sorbet.

With Mama Lisa’s small kitchen and minimal wait staff, focus on soaking up the scene or chatting with your companion to make the occasionally long pauses in service fade into the background.

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