I turned 28 last week, an age that places me definitively in my late 20s. Am I happy about getting this old? Well, as Daddy Salmon would say: It beats the alternative. I started my birthday week with a trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I was born and spent the first five years of my life. I decided to take the trip because I hadn’t seen Lini, my childhood best friend, since my wedding two years ago, or her older sister Torte, since the mid 1990s. As it turned out, it also happened to be a fitting way to commemorate by birth, so many long years ago. Empanada Boy’s Saturday class prevents him from traveling much with me these days, so he stayed home with Percy.
It’s difficult to remember my first five years clearly, but there were two restaurants that immediately came to mind when Lini asked me where I wanted to go: Frontier Restaurant and Model Pharmacy. (It was a given that this three-day trip would be at least half devoted to eating.) I have vivid flashes of memory from both of these restaurants, and I was happy to hear both were going strongâ€” in fact not much seems to have changed at either place since I was five.
We went to Frontier for an early lunch. Walking up to the red-and-yellow-accented, barn-shaped building, I was already anticipating the taste of the fresh-made flour tortillas. It was Friday, so the line was relatively short and devoid of hangover victims. Torte, Lini and I each sidled up to one of the line of cashiers, placed our orders and paid. In return, we were handed numbered receipts. From there, we looked for a table, walking through rooms decked out in cheesy Southwestern artwork and hanging plants, until we settled on the perfect fake-wood paneled booth.
We got our food when our numbers came up and filled up extra cups of salsa from caldrons near the tortilla-making station. I ordered the green chile chicken enchiladas, which turned out to be the ideal reintroduction to New Mexican food: cheesy, spicy, rich and smoky. This year’s green chile crop is extra spicy, which made the whole dish sing. I ate one of my two fresh-made tortillas with my meal and then ate the other for dessert with a packet of honey drizzled across it. Lini ordered soft tacos and Torte had cheesy hashbrowns and rice. There is something truly indulgent about eating New Mexican food. It’s definitely not health food, and while it takes some inspiration from Mexico, it answers only to itself. There is nothing else like it on earth!
It was difficult to think about eating dessert after a meal like that, even a few hours later, but my stomach would just have to submit to a little forced expansion: A trip to Model Pharmacy had to be made.
Model Pharmacy is an operational pharmacy with a gift shop area selling hair barrettes, greeting cards and tchotchkes and a counter with a full soda fountain. The interior of the building truly looked as though I was returning a mere day after my last visit in 1988. The only changes I noticed were that things were started to look a little more dilapidated. Paint looked chipped and the cabinets behind the soda counter were coming apart. We sat at three stools and ordered a chocolate soda with mint chocolate chip ice cream (Torte), a mint chocolate chip sundae with chocolate sauce (Lini) and an espresso milkshake (me). You can be sure the latter wasn’t an option in 1988.
My shake was good, although somehow not as good as I remember. It was a little thinner and less espresso-y than I would have liked. But then, standards always tend to get higher and tastes more sophisticated. In a way, I wish I had ordered something closer to what Torte or Lini picked. Their choices seemed to better embrace the nostalgic, decidedly non-gourmet, spirit of the place.
Either way, I was glad to have visited and eaten ice cream, though my full-to-bursting stomach may have been suggesting otherwise. It was a great first day back in New Mexico, and the eating was just getting started.
2400 Central SE
Albuquerque, NM 87106
3636 Monte Vista Blvd NE
Albuquerque, NM 87106