To get a feel for the divide between northern and southern New Mexican cuisine, step into Delicias Café in Northeast Albuquerque for some of the best traditional flavors of the southern borderlands.
Southern New Mexico flavor is arguably simpler than that of the north, less reliant on spicy heat, with fewer ingredients and less variation in recipes. Northern cuisine, inspired by pueblo culture and Santa Fe, is all about the heat and creative preparation; southern New Mexico food is reliable, consistent, easy.
Delicias is a tour-de-force of southern and northern New Mexico cooking. Everything is made fresh by hand and from scratch; even the salsa and the taco shells. You’ll find items such as gorditas, shredded-beef tacos, red chile enchiladas and, unlike traditional southern New Mexico restaurants, Delicias serves a bowl of fresh caldo de res (a mild type of beef broth with big chunks of carrots and meat) with each meal.
The gorditas were amazing. Three giant pockets of corn are deep-fried like sopaipillas, then stuffed with a delicious concoction of ground beef, spices and chunks of potato. (The plate, $9.35, also comes with beans and rice.) The shells were crispy and darker than what I’m used to, on account of the red chile powder used in the mixture. It’s a great strategy: The gorditas were perfectly flavored and didn’t even need salsa.
The chicken taco plate, like the gordita plate, is also hugely filling. Three big tacos (with freshly made corn tortilla shells) are stuffed with spicy chunks of chicken breast, then smothered in lettuce, tomato, and cheese.
Delicias also serves darned good refried beans and rice with each plate, and the chips and salsa before the meal are excellent. It’s common to find Mexican rice in northern New Mexico cooked with peas or carrots. That’s less common down south, so Delicias’ rice is plain but packed with flavor.
From start to finish, every detail at Delicias is done well.
Equally authentic as the food is the atmosphere: Delicias is brightly lit and decorated with dozens of colorful hand-carved chairs and tables. The exterior is easy to overlook, without much curb appeal, but inside, the colors explode. The chairs are obviously authentic, reminiscent of a Mexico City street bistro, so they give the place an extra layer of street cred.
Also, the staff is exceptionally friendly and attentive, and orders arrive within minutes. Breakfast is served starting at 7 a.m., and you won’t find much of a wait even during rush hours.
If for no other reason, a visit to Delicias for the gorditas and for a full-immersion color experience is worth a trip across town.
Gorditas are like chocolate: Even when they’re not great, you’re still eating gorditas. Delicias’ gorditas are some of the best I’ve ever had, rivaling even the homemade variety from my youth when local families in the New Mexico Bootheel would hold gordita sales to raise money.
They’re also the one food that, if you eat too many, you could end up becoming one of them. (It’s too late for me.)