For some, it’s the breakfast burritos rolled up with freshly made tortillas.
For others, it’s splitting a piping-hot sweet roll with friends, or in pre-pandemic days, sitting in a booth surrounded by portraits of John Wayne pinned to the walls while watching people make their way up and down Central.
But whether it’s the charm or the chile, there’s something special that has kept Burqueños coming back to the iconic Frontier Restaurant for the past 50 years.
“It’s sort of like a melting pot where people come and meet,” said Dorothy Rainosek, Frontier co-founder and owner.
The restaurant celebrates its 50th anniversary Wednesday.
Located at the corner of Central and Cornell, the restaurant has not always been the sprawling collection of rooms that many are familiar with today.
Rainosek said when she and her husband, Larry, opened Frontier on Feb. 10, 1971 it was a comparatively small 99-seat single room restaurant with a menu limited to diner breakfasts, hamburgers and the famous sweet roll. The green chile and tortillas came later.
“Our employee taught us about green chile, because coming from Texas, everything was Tex-Mex,” she said. “We had no idea about chile or red chile.”
Now green chile and Frontier make an inseparable duo.
Rainosek said it’s not uncommon for customers to buy the chile by the half gallon to take home and freeze.
Over the years, the couple amassed property surrounding the restaurant, providing it with more dining rooms and more importantly, parking spaces, all while slowly cementing itself into an Albuquerque landmark.
For most of its time, Frontier provided a snapshot of Albuquerque: Young families waiting in line for a weekend breakfast, high schoolers celebrating a win after a sports game, college students cramming before a test and concert goers looking for a late night snack.
While the restaurant draws locals and tourists alike, Rainosek said the decades have also been marked by celebrity visits, features in national television shows and even a rumor that the Dalai Lama once stopped by. (Rainosek said she wasn’t there to confirm that visit.)
But, like many landmark spots, the coronavirus has quieted the normally bustling restaurant.
Rainosek said while the restaurant is offering take-out and even installed a take-out window, Frontier is not known for its take-out.
“It’s more for people watching, families, friends getting together,” she said. “It was not intended to be to-go, but the community is supporting us.”
Despite being transplants from Austin, Texas, Rainosek said she and her husband entwined themselves with Albuquerque’s business and philanthropic communities.
“Our dream was fulfilled in many, many ways, allowing us to give back to the community, to be supportive of the university, the sports, the many charities that we have here,” Rainosek said. “It’s been sort of the American dream.”
To celebrate its 50th anniversary, Frontier Restaurant is offering specials on popular menu items like breakfast burritos and sweet rolls.