Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"We don't need a sign . . . we're Duran's"

In Albuquerque everyone knows their way to Duran's (witness the headline, my waitress' charming and cheeky response when a visitor suggested making the corner spot easier to find). Tucked away inside this New Mexico institution close to downtown is a tidy 1930's era lunch counter most visitors likely miss while heading to the newer hipster bars and sushi restaurants of the University/ Nob Hill neighborhood.
Late in the afternoon, seated at one of the tables walled off in the back of a vaguely busy pharmacy and drugstore I am probably the only customer under 60 (or maybe 70). To reach my table I pass customers filling prescriptions, racks of seeds, a display of toothpaste, greeting cards and shelves of cough syrup, pantyhose, and baby bottles.
This is the kind of restaurant every Woolworths and downtown department store used to have. The sort of place where as a kid I would beg to sit at a counter stool, spin and sip soda through a straw. The kind of place I suddenly, as I wait for my order (not very long at all), fear may soon be gone for good.
Instead of the club sandwiches and, since I'm from Maryland, crabcakes of my youth, Duran's -- a real New Mexico institution -- offers, along with the usual bacon and eggs or grilled cheese sandwich, a variety of dishes trimmed with your choice of red or green chili sauce. Everything is made in house and Duran's chili sauce is very good (so good they sell it to go and in gift boxes). I opt for a bowl of chili, generally regarded as Duran's best dish. Although in Texas or Cincinnati chili may be meat slow cooked in tomato sauce (with or without beans, the debate rages on) in New Mexico chili is your choice of ingredients (meats, beans, potatoes) layered in a bowl and smothered with chili sauce, usually with cheese by request. My bowl has carne adovado (pork cubes braised in red chili sauce), potatoes, beans, and both red and green chili sauce, called "Christmas" by locals.
But, as everyone in Albuquerque knows, the highlight of a meal at Duran's Central Pharmacy are the fresh homemade flour tortillas. Thick, chewy, and not at all like the limp breadstuff that grocery stores and fast food Mexican joints pass off as tortillas, these plate-sized, hand formed treats are served warm off the griddle ready to be buttered and quickly devoured. I'm full but I would gladly eat another (or maybe two) if it came to the table. Chili quickly becomes an excuse to dip warm tortillas. Everything is a side dish to the best tortillas I've had in New Mexico.
For the best Duran's has to offer go during the "lunch rush" 11:30 to 1 pm, the service may be a bit slower but the food, and the people watching is at it's freshest and most appealing.

No comments:

Post a Comment