Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
During the dog days of this pandemic summer, nothing feels more transcendent than ice cream. That is, unless it’s peaches at their peak, or buttery yellow corn, or a hot dog smothered in chile and mustard, or a sweet-tart cup of icy lemonade. Amidst the confines of COVID-19, it’s hard to find purer pleasures than in the classic flavors of summer.
After the July 13 re-closure of indoor dining rooms, I took a few days last week to get reacquainted with the best seasonal food the city still has to offer. Buzzing like a masked pollinator from parking-lot cart to storefront to patio to food truck, I ordered Summer, straight up – hold the anxiety of a long wait or a dense crowd.
After picking up a bag of garden mulch at Big Jo True Value Hardware, the first stop on this tour de comfort was Roque’s Hot Dogs, located in the corner of the hardware store parking lot on Siler Road.
“This is the kind of thing that gets you on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives!” Armando Pacheco exclaimed, looping the word “Chicano” in mustard cursive over his signature Chicano Dog ($6 for a dog, chips and soda). “Except I’m more of a dive.”
The Roque’s cart is owned by Roque Garcia of Roque’s Carnitas on the Plaza, but it is manned by the effervescent Pacheco. His Chicano Dog is a spin on the Chicago-style classic, involving a grilled ¼lb Hebrew National, Young Guns green chile, a mixture of spicy and regular relish, sliced red onions, mustard and a finishing sprinkle of red chile powder on your choice of a tortilla or bun. The kosher wiener is a revelatory blend of sweet, hot and beefy. After wolfing it down in the shade of my truck, I seriously questioned the semi-annual aspect of my hot dog habits.
I would have paired the Chicano Dog with a small coconut shaved ice ($3) from Rainbow Snow, across the Big Jo lot, had it been open when I was there. Instead, I headed to Paleteria Oasis on Airport Road to stock the freezer with a grab bag of gourmet house-made milk- or water-based paletas to go ($2.98 each). Paleteria Oasis makes their ice cream with real fruit, fresh ingredients and no preservatives in two storefront locations, along with a hefty menu of sundaes and Mexican snacks, such as Doritos or Takis Locos (bags of chips doctored with your choice of toppings, plus lime, Valentina or chamoy sauce), tortas or elotes.
I’ve since been enjoying “Paleta, take me away” moments. Paleteria Oasis pops are more refreshing than cold midday bubble baths, whether I’m in a creamy mango mood or up for a cucumber-con-chile flight of fancy.
The paletas also primed me for more elevated seasonal fare, which I found on a patio table at Paper Dosa one evening. The six-year-old South Indian restaurant rotates its menu according to what’s at its peak and, right now, that means peaches. They’re the star of the peach and avocado salad, an abundant heap of farmers market greens sprinkled with crunchy pepitas and tossed in a simple peach-cilantro dressing. For a dynamic duet of summer’s bounty, pair the salad with chef Paulraj Karuppasamy’s curry leaf corn soup, a silky, cozy bowl of puréed Olathe Sweet corn, coconut milk, chiles and leeks. A cooling, sweet-and-spicy Puli Jeera soda makes a fine third, blending cilantro and mint with thick cumin-tamarind syrup and soda water.
Finally, summertime demands a decent fish sandwich, at least in my book. A superb one can be found at the Jambo Hapa food truck, currently parked outside Ohori’s Coffee in the Luna Center. (Another Jambo food truck with the same menu is sometimes open outside Jambo Café further down Cerrillos Road.)
On an afternoon when the heat shimmered in waves off the asphalt, I sucked down a bracing mango-ginger lemonade ($4) while awaiting a tilapia sammy and lemon harissa fries ($15). The pili-pili-spiced, griddled white fish is curled into a thick pita and topped with a cooling mango-papaya chutney, sliced cherry tomatoes, red onions and mixed greens. Citrus-spiked fries are coated with sharp harissa powder and sided with a tangy harissa mayo.
That particular lunch was a baptism of bold Afro-Caribbean flavor that encapsulated exactly what I was looking for – seasonally specific reasons to support local restaurants, however they are able to serve us. For me, that means taking a cue from poet Li-Young Lee’s ode to fresh peaches, “From Blossoms.” On savoring summer fruit at its finest, Lee writes,
“There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy.”