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Al fresco out of necessity: Pandemic forces restaurants to up their patio game to attract diners

Illustration by Cathryn Cunningham/Journal

The COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting so much of our lives. The one area that seems normal is our ability to enjoy restaurant dining al fresco. So escape from the mundane and relish the outdoor ambiance of patio dining. Whether you are seeking a birds-eye view of the city, a garden getaway, or a unique oasis, many Albuquerque locations have what you are searching for. Here are a few New Mexico favorites.

Apothecary Lounge at locally owned Hotel Parq Central, 806 Central SE, is encompassed by the city lights of Downtown with a captivating view of the Sandia Mountains in the distance. Perched on the hotel’s rooftop, the patio offers food and cocktails that complement the magnificent backdrop.

“I do believe we have one of the best views of the city up there,” said Yancy Sturgeon, general manager at Hotel Parq Central. “When the sunsets are just right with the clouds hitting them it’s something to behold.”

A captivating view of the city lights of downtown Albuquerque from the Apothecary Lounge at Hotel Parq Central. (Courtesy of Hotel Parq Central)

The patio is open from 5 to 10:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. The kitchen typically closes at 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The patio may close earlier on slower nights, according to Sturgeon.

Apothecary carries International wines, local craft beer on tap and has an impressive cocktail program created by food and beverage manager Jake Larragoite. The menu includes classic favorites such as The Sazerac and the Old Fashioned mixed in with seasonal concoctions including the Metamorphosis, made with house-infused pea flower gin, spiced white tea syrup, soda and “magic.”

“Obviously our prickly pear margaritas are number one and that’s what we’ve been known for,” Sturgeon said. “… The Metamorphosis drink is really cool because it changes color. We do an infusion at the table so it actually changes colors right in front of you.”

Larragoite made his own infusion barrels and makes many items in-house including simple syrups for the cocktail program. He includes cocktails on the menu that perfectly pair with Apothecary’s small plates. Patrons can choose from about a dozen preparations including coconut shrimp, a charcuterie plate, green chile angus sliders, Moroccan humus and red chile ribs that are slow roasted and encrusted in New Mexico red chile.

“The sliders and the honey sriracha chicken skewers are really incredible,” Sturgeon said. “… If you’re a bacon lover we have ‘Bacon in a Jar.’ It’s candied bacon that has been cooked and crisped with brown sugar and then we have pecans in it.”

Free from the hustle and bustle of the city sits the North Valley’s Casa de Benavidez, 8032 Fourth NW. Patio guests forget the disturbances of the day and are calmed by the tranquil sounds of a large waterfall and lose themselves in the luscious greens and lavish flowers.

“It’s got a big ole pond in there and I have koi in there,” said Paul Benavidez Jr. “Some of that koi has been there 25-30 years now … I have people that go out there in the middle of the afternoon and they enjoy how calm it is. They’ll sit there for hours. They think they’re at the park sometimes because it’s so beautiful.”

Patio seating is surrounded by lush greenery at Casa de Benavidez. (Courtesy of Casa de Benavidez)

Patio hours begin at 10:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m. Friday and Saturday. The patio closes each day at 8 p.m. and is closed on Sunday. The restaurant has a happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Offerings include discounted bottle beers, drafts, house margarita and small plates of nachos, taquitos and more. The restaurant offers a full bar.

Casa de Benavidez has a little bit of everything. Its Sopaipilla Burger put the restaurant on the radar when it started making it 40 years ago.

“Nobody ever made one,” Benavidez Jr. said. “Actually it’s a trademark of the business so nobody is able to call it a sopaipilla burger … I think that’s what really put us on the map. And now I created an open face sopaipilla burger smothered with chile, cheese, and then you get a fried egg on top and that seems to sell quite a bit.”

The restaurant also put its signature on its sopaipillas.

A large pond encompassed by greenery on the patio at Casa de Benavidez. (Courtesy of Casa de Benavidez)

“We’re like the only ones in town that make round sopaipillas,” Benavidez Jr. said. “Ours are round and we usually put a layer of beans and chile and sharp cheddar cheese, a hamburger patty, and tomato and lettuce and a round sopaipilla on top of it like a burger. We sell those by the hundreds. We’re the only one that has round ones. Everybody else has rectangular or square. We started selling a lot of our sopaipilla burgers so we just started doing them and serving round ones on the side instead of doing square ones like everybody else.”

Benavidez Jr. said he has seen an influx of new customers.

“When somebody comes out here they’re not just driving by saying ‘hey there’s a place to eat,'” he said. “They’re coming down here specifically to eat and enjoy the place.”

Deep in southeast Albuquerque is the longtime favorite Cervantes Restaurant & Lounge.

Its quaint shaded patio is an intimate delight. The tranquil outdoor water fountain and overhead blooms are reminiscent of a smaller Spanish hacienda courtyard.

“We’ve got a fountain and we’ve got some floral action going on out there to add a little color,” said general manager Kyle Baird. “It’s covered and has tall walls. It’s nice and secluded.”

Patio hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The restaurant is currently closed on Sunday.

Cervantes’ menu hasn’t changed much, to the delight of returning patrons.

A partial view of the quaint patio area at Cervantes Restaurant Lounge. (Courtesy of Rozanna M. Martinez)

“We’re here to make people happy,” Baird said. “There’s all these things that people tend to come in for so our menu has stayed 100% the same.”

The restaurant is known for its carne adovada, specifically the carne adovada enchiladas, according to Baird.

“That’s our house recipe,” he said. “It’s the best thing here hands down. Everything is homemade. Nothing is ever frozen unless requested, if someone wants frozen tamales to take somewhere, but basically everything is made daily if not a couple of times a day, depending. If we ran out of guacamole there’s a good chance we’ll make it two, three times a day. It’s all done fresh and that’s key, consistency and being fresh.”

Baird’s grandmother, Roberta Sanders, opened the restaurant in 1976. Sanders remains the owner and formed a good team. The restaurant’s first head chef remains head chef to this day.

“Her name is Chela (Diaz) and she’s literally been with my grandma since day one,” Baird said. “Definitely a tough gal there. Definitely very loyal … I always think it’s a good little tidbit because I think it also goes to show how we treat our employees. I mean pretty much everybody, obviously I’ve been here my whole life, but a majority of our employees have been here 10 years plus. We try to treat people the way they’re supposed to be treated.”

Cervantes has a full bar with wine selections and plenty of domestic, import and craft beers as well as cocktail classics and a number of specialty margaritas. The bar’s jewel is its premium tequila selection, which at last count was 92 different tequilas.

“We have a really significant tequila bar,” Baird said. “That’s something I like to hang my hat on … Of course I don’t have the final say on it, but I am kind of in charge of what we get to carry, and the bar is kind of like my little baby.”

Head up to the Heights for artisan pizzas, pastas and salads to savor under umbrella-shaded tables surrounded by greenery and the trickling sounds of a modern outdoor waterfall at Farina Alto Pizzeria & Wine Bar, 10721 Montgomery NE.

Umbrella-shaded tables and a modern outdoor waterfall on the patio at Farina Alto Pizzeria & Wine Bar. (Courtesy of Farina Alto Pizzeria & Wine Bar)

Its bread is handmade and its gourmet meats are cured in-house.

The Meatballs Al Forno Balsamico are a great starter. The appetizer is comprised of Sicilian style meatballs with a balsamic reduction, raisins, pine nuts and butter served with grilled bread. The roasted cauliflower steak with chimichurri sauce is a nice option for vegetarians to begin with. There is a pizza for all palates from the mushroom lover to foodies fond of Italian meats. The pastas also run the gamut with traditional chicken parmesan to the Rigatoni Alla Bolognese to the Penne Alla Vodka made with San Marzano tomatoes, shallot, vodka, cream and sausage.

Wash it all down with something from the happy hour menu that is available every day from 3 to 5 p.m. Dinner service begins at 5 p.m. each day.

“It’s just 25% off all alcoholic beverages,” said Farina Alto general manager Evan Keene of the happy hour menu. “(We have) half price wine bottles on Monday. Just the bottles. It’s specifically the bottles on the ‘by the bottle’ list so anything by the glass doesn’t apply.”

A fine dining experience on the patio awaits in the heart of Downtown Albuquerque.

MAS Tapas y Vino at Hotel Andaluz has opened Ibiza’s rooftop bar and patio space to accommodate diners. (Courtesy of Hotel Andaluz)

MÁS Tapas y Vino at Hotel Andaluz, 125 Second NW, offers an impeccable wine list with a matching menu. The restaurant is currently using Ibiza’s rooftop bar and patio space to accommodate diners. Guests get a view of a portion of Downtown and beyond as well as a glance at the majestic mountains in the distance. The stunning décor lends itself to unique rooftop eateries found abroad. Reservations are highly recommended.

“It starts at 7 a.m. for breakfast and goes all the way to 8:30 (p.m.),” said Phil Snyder, Andaluz general manager. “So we have uninterrupted dining from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. We have an all-day dining menu that starts at 11 (a.m.) so that’s the selection of lunch and dinner menu items. We don’t have the full MÁS menu we did before the pandemic hit but we keep expanding it as we can.”

Popular menu picks are the Berkshire Pork Belly with Anasazi bean ragout, toasted corn and pork jus; the Patatas Bravas with crunchy potato, spicy aioli, garlic and little herbs; the Vegetable Paella with tempura broccoli, artichokes, kale, mushrooms, roasted pepper and saffron Calasparra rice; and the Snake River Farms Bone In Ribeye Steak with Vermont white cheddar potato puree, crispy onion and a red chile demi-glace. The Crispy Fried Chicken Sandwich has been added to the menu. It features garlic aioli, Bibb lettuce, heirloom tomato and kosher dill pickle on a sesame seed bun.

“(Executive) Chef Marc (Quiñones) has recently rolled out a fried chicken sandwich, which is absolutely amazing,” Snyder said. “It’s delicious … The fried chicken sandwich is like the number one sandwich in the United States. We wanted to do one with our special MÁS twist on it and Marc being Marc of course made it over the top and it’s delicious and wonderful.”

The Sawmill Market is an aesthetically pleasing food hall filled with options for every craving morning, noon and night.

Patio seating is plentiful with guests able to choose from The Yard, wine patio and the Flora Mexican Restaurant patio.

Illustration by Cathryn Cunningham/Journal

“Still sticking under our 50% occupancy limit, we can still seat almost 400 people,” said Mark Montoya, general manager of Sawmill Market. “So we still have quite a bit of seating. We have patios in the front for Flora (Mexican Restaurant), which is our taco takeout area, and then we have a wine bar patio and then we have our cafe patio in the front and then The Yard is in the back … There’s several options where people can sit and most are shaded. We have umbrellas on the tables that aren’t under covered spaces. It’s a real comfortable environment for anyone that wants to enjoy patio dining.”

Sawmill Market opens bright and early for coffee and pastry seekers and guests who gravitate toward fanciful breakfasts.

“It’s really cool in the morning because on the east side of the building there we have XO Waffle and they do breakfast waffles and savory waffles and then they do sweet ones with ice cream on top and then you have Jove (T. Hubbard), who is our pastry chef, who is with Blue Door (Patisserie). He makes these amazing croissants and pastries and fresh bread every single morning,” Montoya said. “You kind of get that smell of a bakery when you walk in the door and then Plata Coffee is on that same side. It’s fun in the morning. You’ve got your espresso bar and you have the pastry and then the waffles as well so it’s kind of a cool breakfasty, brunchy spot.”

Sawmill Market is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Sunday with some eateries open for breakfast and lunch or lunch and dinner and some open for all three meals such as XO Waffle and Cacho’s Bistro that serves Venezuelan bites and empanadas. Paxton’s Southwest taproom slings local and regional beers until 10 p.m.

Mercantile Wine Bar opens its patio at 4 p.m. Patrons can enjoy their wine selection with small plate choices such as marinated olives, shrimp cocktail, braised short rib. Guests can choose various cheeses such as cheddar, brie and blue cheese along with their choice of meats including prosciutto, salami and chorizo to create charcuterie boards.

“We have a really cool wine menu that serves wines from all over the world,” Montoya said. “We have about 25 different glasses, different wines that you can taste by the glass. We do a 3-ounce pour or a 6-ounce pour or you can buy by the bottle. We have a really wide variety of wines between whites, reds and a handful of sparkling.”

Flora Mexican Restaurant has its own patio space where guests can dine and satisfy their taco cravings.

“We have a taco takeout window in front of the market where you can order their Mexican street tacos,” Montoya said. “We have carnitas, carne asada. Chef, I think, everyday kind of rotates them out a little bit from grilled shrimp tacos to cochinita pibil to barbacoa … There’s always about five different selections of tacos and those are available in a tray of three, six or nine tacos … In that location, we do a bunch of different Mexican bottled beers. We have micheladas, margaritas that you can have on our patio space.”

Sawmill Market visitors can grab a wood-fired pizza from Hawt Pizza Co., a pasta dish from Tulipani, a signature burger at Dr. Field Goods, or a sandwich at the Mercantile Cafe and head to The Yard patio to chow down. Frozen cocktails, canned craft beer, seltzers can be found at the transformed 1956 RV turned mobile bar located in The Yard. Cool off with artisan craft ice from Viva Fresca. Montoya describes it as “Albuquerque ice” similar to Italian ice. Flavors include sandia and biscochito.

The Yard offers plenty of patio seating to accommodate diners at the Sawmill Market. (Courtesy of Doug Merriam)

“You almost can come out here to The Yard and you almost forget about what’s going on and everything negative in the world,” Montoya said. “It’s just a nice time to sit with some family and sit with some friends and enjoy a beer and enjoy some good food … It’s a great atmosphere especially in the afternoon and the evenings.”


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