Alicea’s New York Bagels & Subs in Rio Rancho stands out like an oasis in the arid wasteland that is greater Albuquerque’s bagel scene.
A transplant from the Northeast, owner Frenchy Alicea understands the preparation that goes into making a proper bagel. He boils the bagels first, leaving them in the hot water just long enough to set the outside crust without rendering the insides too chewy. Then he finishes them off in the oven. The finished product is a marvel of taste and texture that puts the chain varieties to shame.
Along with bagels, Alicea has brought signature sandwiches such as the Philly cheesesteak and chicken Parmesan with him to Rio Rancho. It’s enough to make a New Yorker who’s been relocated to the City of Vision as part of the witness protection program feel right at home.
Alicea opened his deli about eight years ago in a small strip mall on the southwest corner of Golf Course and Southern. The bagels are made in a separate facility a couple doors down from the restaurant.
First impressions on a recent weekday lunch were uninspiring. The interior, with drop ceilings and linoleum floors, is a little dark and drab. In keeping with current COVID-19 restrictions, there were only a few tables set up in the small space.
There was no sign of anyone behind the counter, so I brushed the crumbs off a table, sat down and waited for my friend to arrive.
A few minutes later, an apologetic server finally emerged from the kitchen. He was young, friendly and knowledgeable and punctuated everything he said with the word “boss,” as in, “what can I get you, boss?” and “How’s your food, boss?”
I tried the green chile bagel ($2), served warm and sandwiched around a layer of cream cheese. It was superb, with a crunchy outer layer and soft midsection tinged with the flavor of the chile.
The rest of the menu is made up of a standard assortment of subs, plus seven signature versions that cost $7.50 for a 6-inch regular and $12.25 for the “big boy.” There is a 25-cent surcharge for takeout.
The filling for Alicea’s 6-inch Philly steak and cheese ($7.75) is a variation on the form. Instead of steak cooked and sliced up on the grill, you get a heaping portion of chopped roast beef in a matrix of melted American cheese and provolone. Cheese Whiz is available if you want a more authentic experience. The bread was fresh and the filling generous, but it registered more like a roast beef sandwich than a true Philly cheesesteak.
The 6-inch Italian ($7.20) was a typical version, with ham, salami and provolone. The thin slices of roast beef on top were the one unusual touch. Good quality cold cuts and fresh veggies elevated this above the norm.
Along with subs there are a few regular sandwiches on the menu, including a BLT and a grilled cheese. The Reuben triple stack ($13) consists of pastrami, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing on marble rye. It’s a great sandwich, the lean pastrami underpinned by the tangy dressing and sauerkraut and the mild, earthy flavor of the rye bread.
The 6-inch chicken club panini ($7.75) was also successful, the mix of sliced, grilled chicken breast and provolone punched up with bacon and Italian dressing.
There’s a cooler full of sodas and other drinks. Zuberfizz cream sodas ($2.75) are the go-to option here.
You can get any of the sandwiches on gluten-free bread, and there is a vegetarian sub with cheese.
The server did a laudable job, although I’m certain he would have had to call someone in from the bullpen if it had gotten busier.
Aliceas’s bagels are worth a trek to Rio Rancho. The sandwiches are a bonus.