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Rocka Taco rockin’ the Bricklight District

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Matt Nichols is keeping things simple.

His Rocka Taco shop in the University of New Mexico area is all about, well, tacos.

“I like the model of In-N-Out Burger: do a few things, and do them really well,” Nichols said recently from a stool inside the tiny Bricklight District eatery.

Nichols — who owns Gold Street Caffé — took over management of what was formerly Retro Tacos, opening with the Rocka Taco concept in mid-October. (His 5-year-old daughter came up with the name.)

At Rocka Taco, customers have just a few options. Those include a one-, two or three-taco plate. The plates come with Spanish rice and pinto beans, and the price range is $6.95-$10.95.

Rocka Taco is the brainchild of Matt Nichols, who owns Gold Street Caffé in Downtown Albuquerque.

But the limited menu is actually rife with possibilities. Diners design their own tacos by picking the fillings. Shredded beef, pork carnitas, shredded chicken or grilled vegetables provide the substance, while a selection of fresh salsas add the extra flavor.

Most of the salsas harken back to one of Nichols’ earlier endeavors, the now-closed Fajitaville. Fans of that former Albuquerque establishment may recognize the charred tomato chipotle or the pineapple salsa that now sauce the food at Rocka Tacos.

“The salsas are pretty much exactly the same. That’s kind of one of the things we were known for,” Nichols said.

The salsas are prepared fresh daily and staff slow roasts the meat overnight. When customers order, the meat and salsa of their choosing is stuffed inside a 6-inch, cheese-crusted corn tortilla.

There are a few beers on tap and customers can also get an order of “Chips and Tres Salsas” for $3.95.

But to maintain the quality of the food, Nichols said he has no plans to stray from the taco-centric theme.

“We’re not trying to be so many things to so many people,” he said. “It’s really hard to do a lot of things well, especially when you make everything from scratch.”

Rocka Taco is located at 115 Harvard SE, Suite 3. There are only a few tables and stools inside the sherbert-orange-painted shop, but many more seats are available on the heated patio that wraps the building’s northeast corner.

Rocka Taco is open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

The phone number is 433-5051.

Where there’s pizza…

… There is probably beer, and that’s especially true at JC’s New York Pizza Department in Downtown Albuquerque.

There are 28 beers on tap at the new Back Alley Draft House, which recently opened in the space behind JC’s New York Pizza Department in Downtown Albuquerque. The lineup also will feature some beers brewed in-house by Addison Poth, seen here. (richard pipes/journal)

Owners have transformed the ample space behind the 10-year-old pizza joint into a separate place they’re calling Back Alley Draft House.

What owner Joaquin Garofalo formerly used as a party room for private events is now a pub with 28 different beers on tap. The selection highlights New Mexico-produced brews from the likes of La Cumbre, Marble, Chama River and Santa Fe Brewing Co. The rotating lineup will also include a few crafted in-house by Back Alley managing partner Addison Poth as well as some national brands.

Back Alley customers will also get to try some harder-to-find beers. Garofalo said he has better access to product as the holder of both a restaurant and a brewing licence. He cited the New Belgium Peach Porch as one of those brews currently available at Back Alley.

“Everyone recognizes the breweries, but they probably never had those beers before,” he said.

Back Alley has its own east-facing entrance a few steps below street level near the intersection of Central Avenue and 2nd Street, but customers can also move interiorly between JC’s NYPD and the draft house.

Pub goers can order anything off the JC’s NYPD menu, whether they’re craving the meatball-themed Queens pizza or an eggplant parmigiana hero.

When including the patio as well as the interior table, bar and booth seating, Back Alley can accommodate about 100 people.

Patrons can watch sports on the large TVs that dot the red-painted walls or engage in games of their own at the dart board and foosball table.

Garofalo is hoping that Back Alley will keep his business humming well into the night. JC’s NYPD — which underwent a significant expansion about five years ago — is already a popular spot with the Downtown lunch crowd, but Garofalo said it takes extra effort to keep the crowds coming after dark.

“If you’re not growing, you’re getting stale and dying,” said Garofalo, who is also plotting new restaurants in smaller markets around New Mexico to join his Albuquerque and Las Vegas, N.M., locations.

JC’s NYPD and the Back Alley Draft House are located at 215 Central NW.

The owners of JC’s New York Pizza Department have transformed the space behind the restaurant into a brewpub they’re calling Back Alley Draft House. (richard pipes/journal)

Back Alley Draft House opens at 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and at noon on Sunday.

New name, but cannoli’s the same

What was formerly known as La Dolce Vita bakery has relocated and changed its name to Sergio’s Bakery.

Siblings Sergio and Annabel DeBari have taken over ownership from their parents Frank and Maria and moved the bakery from Lomas Boulevard to a shopping-center space at 2740 Wyoming NE.

The move to more spacious environs has given them a chance to expand their menu. In addition to their lineup of fresh breads, doughnuts, sweet rolls and cookies, they’re also scooping gelato, offering cheesecake and tiramisu by the slice and putting a greater emphasis on the custom cakes decorated with painterly detail by Annabel and her husband.

Sergio DeBari said he also plans to add hot and cold sandwiches soon, including a Chicago beef option.

“At the new place, we want to kind of do our own thing,” he said.

But fear not: the changes haven’t affected the cannoli. The bakery’s signature treat is still made from the same family recipe, and mom Maria is still hand-crafting the shells. In fact, Sergio said, she doesn’t allow anyone else in the bakery to make them.

“We get people from New York saying they’re better than (New York cannoli),” Sergio said.

Michelle DeBari and brother Sergio DeBari display their baked goods at the bakery’s new location at 2740 Wyoming NE. The former La Dolce Vita is now known as Sergio’s Bakery. (jessica dyer/journal)

Ownership may have shifted to their children, but Frank and Maria remain involved. Although Sergio grew up in the family business — “I was baking since I was 7, 8 years old; I was already running the ovens” — he said still relies on his dad’s expertise.

“Whenever I need a recipe tweaked, he’s the one who comes up with it perfectly,” he said.

Sergio’s father and grandfather — also named Sergio — bought what was formerly known as the Kitchen Fresh Bakery in Santa Fe in 1980. The family moved it to Albuquerque in 2000.

Joshua B. Sharp of Roger Cox & Associates represented the family for the latest move into a 4,800-square-foot Heights site, a space formerly used for Juan’s Broken Taco and part of the nearby Bibles Plus store.

“It’s a pretty big change, but we’re trying not to lose what the bakery was — ‘kitchen fresh,'” Sergio said. “We still have a lot of the older line, we’re just adding a lot more to it.”

Sergio’s Bakery is open 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The phone number is 554-2602.

If you have any retail news to report, contact me at, 823-3864 or through my “Retail Roundup” blog at