Two joints in one—the cozy, family-oriented Front Door & the dark, boozy Back Door—Charlie’s opened 45 years ago (in 1966) & has remained my sentimental Albuquerque fave for about half that time. Is it the city’s 5-star best? I can’t honestly say it is, since the red & green chile are inconsistent—& red & green chile are, of course, the be-all-end-all of Southwestern & especially New Mexican cookery. But when they’re good, they’re great, & everything else rocks all the way out, from the chicken & jocoque (a type of sour cream) enchiladas
to the como se llama with Polish sausage & beans to the torta de huevo—a sort of frittata in red chile—to the Navajo taco & all the oddities in between, containing such incongruous stuff as pastrami, sauerkraut, & 1000 Island dressing.
Still, I met my match this week while in town for Thanksgiving: the Mark Special.
It starts with carnitas whose crisped chunks, like good barbecue, almost slide unctously apart rather than break up in strands. These are scattered across generous mounds of chopped fideos—think soupy, ultra-comfy Mexican spaghetti; cheese-smothered calabacitas—think succotash, here with squash & corn; quelites—think sauteed spinach; potatoes fried with onions; & of course frijoles. But don’t, as you eat it, think at all; just take giant forkfuls of everything, separately & mixed together, letting a rich bit of this enhance the flavor of a tangy bit of that, combining & contrasting until suddenly you find you’ve eaten nearly the whole thing. Then scoop up that last bite with a piece of 1 of the fried dough squares known as sopaipillas.
Then squeeze some honey from the bottle on the table into the rest of the pocket & munch until your eyeballs pop out.
If you’ve got another millimeter or two of space, snitch a little of your mom’s smoky, indeed practically blackened, chiles rellenos
or grab 1 more chip to dunk into the guacamole or the kill-you-softly salsa on the appetizer sampler. (I’m not such a fan of the queso, done Texas-style with Velveeta, though I realize it’s not illegit.)
Then take a nap & have kaleidoscopic nightmares about how on earth you’re going to stuff down turkey with all the trimmings the next day. Yes, do it all exactly like that. Such are holidays in the Land of Enchantment.