Aside from the name Joe’s Pasta House, which lacks a certain elan, everything about this Italian dining spot in Rio Rancho is perfect for a date. Intimate tables, detailed European frescoes, an extensive wine menu, perfectly portioned meals and a corner fireplace all make this one of the most romantic spots in town.
It’s also consistently ranked among the top Italian restaurants in the Albuquerque area by local diners.
From the outside, Joe’s is standard fare, but once inside, guests are treated to a scene straight out of a classic Italian eatery – authentic Mediterranean groceries line the walls of the entrance, a small but bustling bar features housemade sangria, and an open kitchen behind that offers a peek into the creation of the cuisine.
The cuisine is as good as it gets. After a phenomenal glass of draft Marble Indian Pale Ale (and then another), my dining companion and I ordered the 8-ounce petite filet and the Surf & Turf, respectively. In true Italian fashion, the meal starts with a complimentary plate of fresh bread with two garnishes. One is a traditional extra-virgin olive oil dip with sprinkled herbs and fresh-ground pepper, and the other is an absolutely delicious but small serving of Joe’s house bruschetta: Tender tomatoes mixed with fresh onions and garlic, then a hint of sweet basil, combine to make an almost salsa-like topping. My dining companion loved it.
I ordered a side salad with Italian dressing to go with my steak. Fresh mixed greens, beautifully ripened grape tomatoes and a few thin slices of cucumbers paired beautifully with a tangy housemade dressing, served on the side. Some side salads feel more like a meal; this one was the perfect size.
The main courses arrived with a bit of fanfare – garnishes of thick green onions delicately flowered atop giant servings of rustic mashed potatoes looked like miniature palm trees. A distinctly rich demi-glace arrived on the side for dipping, made of reduced beef stock and a high-quality Chianti. Though delicious, a richly flavored sauce wasn’t needed to complement our expertly prepared filet mignon.
The steaks were a little larger than the promised 8 ounces and were cooked to perfection, then topped with a tiny dollop of butter. My companion’s was finished with fresh sautéed mushrooms and six large shrimp scampi, also perfectly cooked and delicious. The mashed potatoes were tasty, and a few potato skins added a nice overall texture.
The menu features a comprehensive list of pastas, of course, with every possible combination of housemade sauce and protein, all served in giant pasta bowls. A respectable list of fresh seafood options is also available, and a couple even feature local green chile.
We finished our meal with a slice of New York-style cheesecake that was rich and fresh. The cheesecake is the simplest option from a dessert tray that featured nearly a dozen Italian classics, such as housemade tiramisu and cannoli, and if you’re a fan of cheesecake, Joe’s is worth the trip.
Also, the service is fantastic. Black-clad waiters quietly dance among tables, most of which are filled with couples on dates rather than families, so the atmosphere inside feels a little more Milan than Albuquerque. A tiny koi pond just outside the entrance adds a hint of Osaka, but then a crystal-clear view of the Sandias bring you right back to New Mexico.
Joe’s Pasta House certainly has more to offer than romance, though. It hosts special events and offers a full catering service for weddings and parties, and it features a lunch buffet for $9.99 Monday through Saturday.