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Isleta debuts ‘unique’ food court concept

A popular California-based burger chain opened its first New Mexico location in an unlikely spot.

Isleta Resort & Casino last week unveiled its new food court to a crowd of more than 100 visitors. The court includes the state’s first Fatburger, a Southern California-based fast-casual chain that bills itself as “The Last Great Hamburger Stand,” alongside a Panda Express and a pueblo-owned Mexican food concept called Chile Ristra.

Harold Baugus, CEO of Isleta, said the new food court is the first of its kind at a New Mexico casino and is designed to attract a wide variety of resort guests, as well as Albuquerque residents.

“We want to have something that draws them down (from Albuquerque),” Baugus said.

Isleta Pueblo Gov. Max Zuni samples a burger at Isleta Resort & Casino’s new food court, which features a Panda Express, a Fatburger and a Mexican restaurant called Chile Ristra. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

The food space is part of a three-year, $40 million project that Baugus said is designed to enhance Isleta’s of amenities.

One such avenue is food. Isleta already boasts Tiwa Restaurant and Lounge, which offers comfort food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as a steakhouse. Chill Ice Cream & Coffee Bar is next to the food court.

Still, Baugus said, most of Isleta’s competitors rely heavily on buffets, and during a guest survey, the resort found that visitors weren’t hungry for more buffets.

“After a while, buffets become very redundant,” Baugus said. “What we wanted to do was give several options to our guests.”

Baugus said having a food court gives guests a mix of familiar and unique options. In Panda Express, Baugus said, the food court found an option that would be familiar to most guests. He added that Chile Ristra has been popular since it opened at the casino in 2007.

Patrons at Isleta Resort & Casino wait to sample food at the opening of the casino’s new food court. Casino officials say the food court will employ around 75 people, most of them full time. (Courtesy of New Mexico Capital Partners)

On the other hand, Fatburger, which offers a traditional menu of burgers alongside buffalo wings, onion rings and the meatless Impossible Burger, is new to the Albuquerque area. Baugus said he hopes it will draw visitors from other parts of the Albuquerque area, while giving families and visitors attending conferences a novel option.

“It’s about uniqueness,” he said. I didn’t want one of your normal brands that’s all over the United States; I wanted something that’s unique for the Albuquerque market.”

Isleta Resort & Casino CEO Harold Baugus talks about Isleta’s new food court, which he says is the first of its kind at a New Mexico Casino. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Mark Healey, founder and principal at Virtual Hospitality Group, said only two other casinos in the United States – Gila River Casino in Arizona and Swinomish Casino & Lodge in Washington – feature food courts with a Fatburger.

All told, the food court will employ around 75 people, most of them full time. Healey added that the food court cost more than $3 million.

Baugus said Isleta Resort & Casino is still adding new amenities. A new 5,000-square-foot sportsbook, near the food court, is scheduled to open by November.

Nob Hill staple gets a makeover

A Nob Hill standby shut its doors in August, but only for a couple weeks before it reopens under new ownership.

Several of the founding members of New Mexico Capital Partners stand in front of Nob Hill Bar Grill, which the firm acquired in August. After a renovation, the bar is scheduled to reopen on Sept. 7. (Courtesy of New Mexico Capital Partners)

New Mexico Capital Partners, a local firm that owns Little Bear Coffee along with a few other local businesses, announced last month that it had purchased Nob Hill Bar & Grill, at 3128 Central SE. The restaurant closed in mid-August, but Jacob Fox, co-founder of New Mexico Capital Partners, said it will reopen on Sept. 7, with a somewhat different menu and approach.

“Ready or not, we’ll be open,” Fox said.

The firm has been working on establishing a second location of Little Bear Coffee in the vacant building that once housed Disco Display House across the street from Nob Hill Bar & Grill, which has helped them get to know Nicole Kapnison, the former owner of the bar, Fox said. He added that Kapnison let them know that she was interested in selling, and they jumped at the opportunity despite not have experience operating a restaurant.

To help make up for the lack of experience, the firm brought in New Mexico native Sean Sinclair, who has worked at a variety of well-known restaurants in the Land of Enchantment and elsewhere, including Farm & Table in Albuquerque and The Inn and Spa at Loretto in Santa Fe.

Fox said the team plans to pare down Nob Hill Bar & Grill’s extensive menu to 20 to 30 items, with an emphasis on higher-end ingredients. However, Fox said, the restaurant will retain a few popular menu items.

Additionally, the team plans to revamp the bar’s cocktail menu, with a focus on traditional mixed drinks that can complement the bar’s tap list.

“We’re not gonna get crazy with the cocktails, but we’ll have a lot of classic cocktails for everyone,” Fox said.

The ambiance of the bar is expected to change slightly, as well, after some minor renovations. Fox said the bar will no longer operate as a nightclub on weekend nights, adding that he hopes the bar can function more as a meeting space for people in the neighborhood once it reopens.

“I think Nob Hill as a neighborhood doesn’t need another nightclub,” Fox said.

Stephen Hamway covers retail and real estate for the Albuquerque Journal. You can reach him at or by phone at 505-823-3919