Like the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta itself, Albuquerque‘s New Mexico cuisine is colorful and adventurous. From simple dishes that have been enjoyed for centuries to Southwest fusion tastes that have created their own genre, New Mexico’s distinct culinary legacy is known throughout the world. After an early morning of watching the greatest ballooning show of earth, you’ll be hungry and inspired to enjoy an authentic New Mexican meal. Fortunately, there are several great restaurants that fit that bill near the Balloon Fiesta grounds. This list is 10 of our favorites that won’t disappoint. Chile is the foundation for most of New Mexico’s classic dishes. Technically a fruit, this pepper has been cultivated into several varieties to vary heat and size. Green and red chile are made from the same peppers; greens are younger and reds are fully ripe. Green chile tends to be meatier; red chiles are dried, usually in colorful ristras, then crushed into a powder to make the sauce. Which one is hotter? That varies year-to-year, depending on how much water and sun the crops received, and other factors. The main difference is in texture; red tends to have a smokier flavor. A good chile dish shouldn’t set your mouth on fire; it’ll have a zip, but most importantly you should be able to savor its flavor.
Perea’s Tijuana Bar and Restaurant first opened in 1936, and is still housed in the 300 year old torreon (sod, as opposed to adobe) building. The Perea family prepares their traditional New Mexico recipes that include green chile chicken casserole, stacked enchiladas, posole, homemade tortillas and tamales. The bar, named in the 1930s when Tijuana was considered exotic and upscale, has top shelf tequila and is known for its generous margaritas served in a tall glass and on the rocks. Prices are very reasonable � $8 to $10 for a huge plate � but bring cash as they don’t accept credit cards. Also, the restaurant is only open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mon.-Sat., and closed Sundays. The only evening that the bar is open is Monday nights, depending on business. It’s a little quirky, but a great taste of authentic New Mexico cuisine.
Recommended for Restaurants near Balloon Fiesta because: This truly is a taste of New Mexico made by the Perea family in charming Corrales, six miles from the Balloon Field.
Steve’s expert tip: Order an egg on top of your stacked enchiladas for a true New Mexico dish.
Sandiago’s carne adovada taco platter would be reason enough to visit, but the view overlooking the city lights and sunset from the Sandia foothills is the scene stealer. The menu is solid New Mexico fare with good chile, and Sandiago’s prides itself on its variety of oversized, gourmet margaritas. Guests can watch the Sandia Tram arrive and depart from the mountain crest, and the western facing patio offers sweeping sunset and city light views, as well as firework views during Balloon Fiesta. The Blood Orange Margarita is a Sandiago’s favorite, and try the fish or carne adovada tacos. Atmosphere is bright and more Latin American than New Mexican, but the chile is definitely Land of Enchantment.
Recommended for Restaurants near Balloon Fiesta because: The views of the Balloon Fiesta fireworks show are spectacular from this location.
Steve’s expert tip: Best sunset and city views in Albuquerque. The outside patio offers the best view in warm weather. Make a reservation to assure a view table.
The Flying Star Cafe is a casual, yet hip and trendy place to go to read your morning paper, indulge in a fabulous breakfast and people watch. You’ll see locals at the breakfast bar, surfing away, and the neighborhood folks out on the patio enjoying the beautiful weather in the summer. The food here is all locally sourced when possible. Inside, playfully painted walls and ceilings (including clouds) greet customers in this friendly cafe, serving pastries and breakfast all day. Signature dishes include Eggs Florentine, Spanish Frittata, Breakfast Hash and the Rise and Shine Sandwich. New Mexican breakfasts are offered, as are the more traditional eggs, flapjacks and their incredible french toast that will make you lick the platter clean. Now with eight locations in Albuquerque and one in Santa Fe, Flying Star is pet friendly, offering what they call a “petio.”
Recommended for Restaurants near Balloon Fiesta because: Flying Star Cafe is 4 miles from the Balloon Field and serves a wide range of locally sourced breakfast, lunch and dinner menu items.
Steve’s expert tip: The patio with waterfall and fire pit is the perfect place to enjoy a cup of coffee and breakfast with your dog.
Taking over the north valley location of the former Garduno’s, El Bruno’s proves to be a worthy occupant. This is a great location amongst the tall cottonwoods and quiet nature of the neighborhood. With their original El Bruno’s in Cuba, NM (started in 1975), high school sweethearts Bruno and Hazel Herrera now bring their success to NW Albuquerque, opening the 2nd El Bruno’s in March 2011. They are quite proud of their tradition of hauling fresh green chile from Hatch, roasting and peeling it themselves, and using it in their famous recipes. Their daily specials, affectionately named after nearby New Mexico cities and villages, such as Corrales, Placitas and Los Lunas, offer up traditional New Mexican fare, such as enchiladas, relleno, burrito and even a Navajo taco.
With all that fresh green chile on hand, their green chile stew has to be incredible.
There are kids menu items available too.
Recommended for Restaurants near Balloon Fiesta because: Aside from being just 2.3 miles from the Balloon Fiesta, El Bruno’s serves some of the best New Mexico cuisine in the city.
Steve’s expert tip: Try the El Bruno’s chimichanga, and make sure to peruse the gift shop here that offers a diversity of New Mexico products, including dresses.
Cherie Montoya Austin, who grew up in the North Valley of Albuquerque, the greenest and most fertile part of the city, started Farm and Table restaurant, an obvious culmination and continuation of her values and traditions. Chefs prepare seasonal menus according to what the current fresh crop of the day is – a concept embraced by the environmentally conscious society of today. Farm and Table gets their food from local farms and elsewhere in New Mexico – corn from the Santa Ana Pueblo, beef from Los Lunas and potatoes from Santa Fe, for example. Local beers and wine accompany the scrumptious fresh meals such as Cider Glazed Pork Chop and Pan Seared Duck Breast. Fresh from the farm soups, salads and small plates area available too. Open for dinner only, Wednesday through Saturday and brunch on Saturday and Sunday.
Recommended for Restaurants near Balloon Fiesta because: This unique restaurant in a beautiful north valley Albuquerque setting uses locally sourced ingredients and crafts its menus based on what is in season.
Steve’s expert tip: This sophisticated, rural setting is a perfect place to enjoy a farm-to-table meal under a New Mexico sunset. The patio is lovely with water features, and kids will enjoy playing in the sandbox area or exploring the adjacent farm field with parents after dinner. Don’t miss the boutique next door, La Parada.
This perennial Albuquerque favorite is 4.7 miles from the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta grounds on 4th Street (6230 4th St NW, Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, NM 87107). Family owned for half a century, Sadie’s is known for its chile, which smothers dishes such as their specialty enchiladas that include shredded beef brisket, carne adovada or beef brisket, chile rellenos, Sadie’s burrito, tacos and tamales. Luncheon specials are served 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and include smaller portions of their huge dinner plates, priced at $8. Sadie’s also makes and sells its branded chile beef jerky and famous salsas, as well as other New Mexico made products such as piñon coffee.
Recommended for Restaurants near Balloon Fiesta because: This long-time local favorite is less than 5 miles from the Balloon Field and serves up solid New Mexico fare.
Steve’s expert tip: Take home a few jars of Sadie’s salsa to avoid chile withdrawals.
Around 50 years ago, the Benevidez couple, Paul and Rita, started their dream of running a restaurant. Originally in a smaller space named El Mexicano, they moved to their present location in a 100 year old house and haven’t looked back. The garden and waterfall in the back make this a truly peaceful and pleasant escape. Bring your appetite, as menu items include such favorites as stuffed sopaipillas, a la carte burritos and flour tacos, all served with red or green chile, of course. Ample salads served in a fried flour tortilla bowl will fill you, as will their choice of burgers, including their Very Famous Sopaipilla Burger, the beef patty accompanied by refried beans, cheese, lettuce and tomato, and housed in between two sopaipillas. Careful, for dessert you could be easily enticed by the fried ice cream, flan or natillas, a Spanish custard like dish.
Recommended for Restaurants near Balloon Fiesta because: For half a century this family owned New Mexican restaurant has been a local favorite 2.7 miles from the Balloon Field.
Steve’s expert tip: Go for an outdoor patio table near the water and cute little bridge…great ambience out there and in back patio bar/dining room.
Indigo Crow is the epitome of “Corrales cool.” Rustic, charming and Southwestern relaxed can describe this restaurant in an old adobe, serving scrumptious contemporary American cuisine with a taste of the Southwest added to some dishes. Choose to dine in the cozy inside with fireplaces in the cooler months or al fresco on the charming romantic patio, enjoying live music while you dine. In a tiny separate room from the restaurant, is its inviting little bar. Try the chipotle clams or beef skewers for starters. Dinner selections range from the filet with its fire roasted green chile and gorgonzola cream sauce, to the grilled salmon with red chile puree, served with vegetable risotto stuffed poblano, with crispy blue corn strips. Open for lunch, dinner and brunch. Wines and specialty drinks served.
Recommended for Restaurants near Balloon Fiesta because: Six miles from the Balloon Field in charming Corrales, Indigo Crow offers gourmet meals in a cozy adobe with patio.
Steve’s expert tip: Ask about the pre fixe wine dinners, and enjoy a patio table during warm weather.
Dine in Southwestern elegance on the 9th floor of the Sandia Resort and Casino at the Bien Shur Restaurant, with incredible views of the Sandia Mountains. Bien Shur offers a beautiful dining room and top notch service, open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner.
Consider enjoying a drink and a Southwest Tequila Shrimp Cocktail on the rooftop patio to begin, with beautiful views of the swimming pool, golf course and mountains.
White tablecloths and an enormous fireplace greet you in the inviting dining room. Entrees include a large variety of steaks and chops to choose from and a selection of sauces. Other enticing entrees include Mexican White Shrimp, Duck Tamales and Chimayo Chile and Pinon Crusted Salmon, to name a few mouth-watering items.
After dinner enjoy dancing and live music in the rooftop lounge.
Recommended for Restaurants near Balloon Fiesta because: From its nine-story perch enjoy the Balloon Glow and fireworks from the Balloon Field in the evenings during Fiesta.
Steve’s expert tip: Bien Shur creates fabulous buffets on holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Mother’s Day. They are also available for Christmas parties and other events.
El Pinto has long been a local favorite and the place to take out of town guests to treat them to New Mexican ambience and flavor. Owned today by the “Salsa Twins” Jim and John Thomas, whose parents opened El Pinto in 1962, El Pinto can sit 1,200, yet the many cozy rooms and lush expansive patio make the experience feel much more intimate. Open for lunch and dinner, menu items include traditional plates such as stuff sopaipillas, chile rellenos, tamale and enchilada plates, green chile cheeseburgers and chile con carne. Can’t decide? Generous combination plates are the way to go, then. The lounge prides itself on its collection of top shelve tequilas, and El Pinto is know for its margaritas. Special events and live music are often scheduled on the patio (check the website) and you can take home a jar of El Pinto’s famous salsa, which is made with chiles roasted on site.
Recommended for Restaurants near Balloon Fiesta because: At 3.3 miles from the Balloon Museum, this restaurant offers traditional New Mexican cuisine in a beautiful atmosphere.
Steve’s expert tip: Beyond the great food, El Pinto has the largest and one of the most beautiful patios in New Mexico.