Papa Nacho’s, a well-worn local favorite on Louisiana south of Paseo Del Norte that seems committed to not drawing attention to itself, serves honest dishes that are the perfect combination of northern Mexican and New Mexican recipes.
Their flavors are simple, spicy, authentic, and very, very good.
On a recent weekend visit, I tried the gordita – my favorite food and arguably man’s greatest achievement.
If people in Tennessee and Canada and Germany found out about our gorditas here, we’d have to build a wall around the state. Either because they’re so hard to make, or because they’re seen by some as the taco’s fancy cousin, or because the word just hasn’t gotten out, gorditas don’t make many appearances on menus these days, but when they do, one must not miss out.
Papa Nacho’s gorditas are stuffed with goodness, starting with a thick layer of refried beans and well-seasoned shredded beef. The gorditas from my youth in the southern part of the state were always some combination of ground beef and potatoes, but these were an interesting variation.
They were also piled with cheese, chopped tomatoes and shredded lettuce, with generous sides of refried beans and Spanish rice. The standard order comes with guacamole as well.
Papa Nacho’s salsa is out of this world, impossibly fresh and with just enough spiciness to give a pleasant kick. When the chips and salsa came before the meal, I was blown away by the flavor and the simplicity of the salsa.
The chips were good, but they were seemingly the only thing not made in-house.
The gorditas, though, were amazing. The corn shells were thinner than average but obviously made by hand to order. The thinness made for a messy experience, but the flavor was exceptional. And they cost only $10.99 for two big gorditas, two sides, chips and salsa, so the price is also phenomenal. (These are worth twice the price.)
The rice is very good, but the beans are incredible. They’re thick and chunky but loaded with savory flavor and would make an out-of-this-world bean burrito, on my list for next visit. These beans are among the best in Albuquerque, in my opinion, and are surpassed only by the homemade ones made by my best friend’s mother, who lives in Las Cruces.
No wonder this place has a big, loyal following. This is New Mexican soul food, simple and fresh and affordable.
The service is good, if a little hectic, and the place is small and a bit off the beaten path, but it’s homey and clean. Children will like it, out-of-towners will love it, and things like outdoor patio seating, chile rellenos, cheap beer, and albondigas will make it easy to fall in love yourself.
Because this place is consistent and authentic, because isn’t flashy and won’t ever pull a gimmick, because it’s got decent parking and fast service, and because you can’t beat a big plate of stunningly good gorditas for this price, you won’t visit Papa Nacho’s just once.
Like me, a hopeless gordita junkie and lover of a good value, you’ll also be hooked.
3 1/2 stars
LOCATION: 7648 Louisiana NE, south of Paseo del Norte, 821-4900, papanachosfood.com
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
BEER AND WINE