SANTA FE, N.M. — Gil Garduño started writing his online food blog before being a blogger was trendy and before most people started using the newfangled thing called the Internet.
Garduño said he started the “blog” for himself in 1995 to keep a catalog of all the places he had eaten. A native of New Mexico, he had just returned to the state after spending eight years in Mississippi and he and his wife began exploring local restaurants. He said he was surprised when people found him and started reading his reviews.
“I created a website and it wasn’t interactive,” he said. “I didn’t use photos. People had to use their imagination. I didn’t even know about search engines back then but it’s how people were finding me.”
Garduño, who works in information technology for the University of New Mexico, has done 900 reviews and the Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog has a loyal following. He said his blog, nmgastronome.com, gets about 2,000 visitors a day and sometimes up to 4,000.
Some of his regular followers started the Friends of Gil group a few years ago. They get together three or four times a year, often with Garduño coming along, and share a meal at a local restaurant.
Friends of Gil
Ryan Scott, a member of the group, said they had their first informal meal together in 2012 at the Dog House on Central, a tiny eatery that still has carhop service and is well known and loved for its chile dogs.
Friends of Gil group member Shawne Riley said she started following the blog about two years ago and enjoys its comprehensive nature. Reading his blog, she said, has made her more adventurous in trying new food.
Scott stumbled upon Garduño’s blog in about 2005 when searching for a place to eat in Albuquerque and said over time he has come to find that he and Garduño have similar tastes.
“His opinions of certain restaurants were the same as mine,” he said. “He’s become a beacon for me.”
Scott said he thinks the blog is popular because of Garduño’s use of pictures and his writing style. He posts pictures of all the dishes he eats and often starts each blog with an anecdotal story or some type of historical tale.
“You become familiar with a place before you walk in,” he said. “He has a very welcoming writing style.”
Garduño’s love of food and passion for new things started when he was young. He rarely ate outside the home growing up in the small northern New Mexico town of Peñasco, where the culinary choices were limited.
“The first time I had McDonald’s, I was 17,” he said. “The first pizza I ever had was out of a (make-it-yourself) box.”
His mother, however, was an excellent cook and the family kept a garden where they grew squash, corn, beans and strawberries. The family ate all their meals at the table together each morning and night.
Both his parents were teachers and he said he was born with an innate curiosity about the world, reading and memorizing encyclopedias to satisfy his longing for knowledge about the world outside his hometown. He said he was always looking at ways to have new experiences and that included trying new food.
He got his chance when he enlisted in the Air Force and was stationed in Boston.
“To go to Boston where there was so much history and such a wealth of food choices,” he said. “I was like a kid in a candy store.”
Garduño has a golden rule he follows when selecting a restaurant to try – no national chains. He aims to try five new restaurants a month and won’t rate a place unless he’s eaten there at least two times. He also never reviews a restaurant he didn’t like.
“The blogosphere has become a venue for venting,” he said. “I try not to perpetuate that negativity.”
His ratings are based on the entire experience including the service. He said he wants to feel like he’s being welcomed into someone’s home when he dines out. He uses a system modeled after Zagat Southwest Restaurant Survey, with a rating anywhere from 1 to 30, with 30 being the absolute best. He tries to remain anonymous so he doesn’t receive any special treatment.
On his blog, he interacts with his followers by responding to their comments. He said his readers are a great source for getting new restaurant recommendations or being aware of when a restaurant he reviewed closes, which he notes on the blog. The blog has also provided a boon to his social life.
“The people that read me are the most discerning, intelligent readers who provide positive and honest feedback,” he said. “I’ve made so many friends because of this blog.”
Scott said he considers Garduño a good friend, saying he is kind and generous and surprisingly bashful. Riley agrees.
“You would expect someone who does food reviews to be a snob,” she said. “But he’s the most down-to-earth guy.”