The word “icon” is badly overused when writing about food and restaurants. But when talking about the Frontier Restaurant in Albuquerque, New Mexico, it’s unavoidable. Everyone in Albuquerque finds their way here at some point. It doesn’t hurt that it’s located right across the street from the University of New Mexico campus. Or that it opens very early and stays open very late seven days a week. Neighborhood workers stop in for breakfast before starting their day. Families pop in throughout the day. Tourists roam through the huge space, discovering the magic of New Mexican food. And students sit and study over coffee and green chili stew at all hours. It even has a local literary connection. If you’re a fan of mystery novels, you might recognize the place as a setting in more than one of Tony Hillerman’s Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee mysteries. It’s been featured on three Food Channel shows and was a location for the film No Country for Old Men. Like we said… an icon of Albuquerque.
Location: Frontier Restaurant is at 2400 Central Ave SE, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Menu: The menu at Frontier is huge, with more than 50 items. It includes breakfast dishes (served all day), American diner food like burgers, sandwiches, salads and chicken strips. But the big draw here is the New Mexican food. And that means green chiles. They are famous for their green chile stew, and cauldrons of green chile salsa sit ready for you to ladle as much of that goodness as you want over your food. Smother away. Many dishes come with complimentary flour tortillas, made fresh in-house constantly throughout the day, and they are a revelation. Hot and puffy, soft and meltingly delicious. They come with a packet of honey, the perfect accompaniment. In fact, the tortillas are so popular you can buy them packaged by the dozen to take home. The other major stars here are the breakfast burrito—stuffed with scrambled eggs, crispy hash browns, cheddar cheese and green chile—and anything with the carne adovada—slow-cooked, chile-marinated pork.
Thoughts: My first thought about the Frontier Restaurant is that you can’t come to Albuquerque and not have at least one meal at this place. It’s practically a legal requirement. Remember… it’s an “icon” of the city. Every type of Albuquerque character finds their way through the doors at some point. The Frontier simply reeks of old New Mexico—comfortable, down-home, super-casual, a little frayed with age and ultimately very satisfying. Nothing chi-chi about the place. It’s huge, almost barn-like, with five rooms with 300+ seats in a building that spreads over half a block.
The walls are covered with paintings, including many of John Wayne… because the owners really like him. And Albuquerque is, after all, called “Duke City.” The room farthest from the kitchen is often called the Rug Room for the dozens of Native American rugs tacked up on the ceiling. There are wooden tables and chairs, a few booths, and it can get noisy, especially late at night as the university students pour in to close out the night.
There is no table service here. Go to the counter in front of the big open kitchen and study the large menu boards overhead. Be ready to order as soon as you see a register with a blinking green light. Pay your bill and take your receipt with an order number on it. Find a place to sit and keep an eye on the electronic signs scattered through the rooms announcing when your order number is ready. Retrieve your tray of food, get your drink from the 100+ flavor Coke station and dig in. The place is always busy and there is often a line, but it moves quickly.
Do try to leave room for one of the famous Frontier sweet rolls, huge and hot, buttery and gooey and altogether delicious. I suggest you wait to order them until you’re ready because they really need to be eaten hot. You can also order a dozen of these beauties frozen to take home.
For a meal that is tasty, hearty, and light on the budget, plus a way to really get a sense of this busy, edgy capital city, Frontier Restaurant is the experience you want in Albuquerque.
Price Range: Prices at Frontier Restaurant are very reasonable. Nothing on the menu is over $10. The big Bonanza Burger with double meat and cheese is $6.45. A huge plate of enchiladas with rice and salad is $8.40 and comes with some of those amazing puffy fluffy tortillas and honey. A large bowl of green chile stew or posole is $5. The grilled cheese sandwich is just $2.75. The much-beloved carne adovada burrito is only $2.25. Finally, one of the famous Frontier sweet rolls, huge and buttery and rich, runs $1.95.
Note: there is ample parking in the rear. You can also enter through the back door right off the parking alley.
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