Locally, El Taco Rey is not Salsa Brava is not La Casita, nor Carniceria Leonela nor any of the 50-some odd other Mexican food joints. Something as simple as the placement of a corn tortilla in the underlayers of a dish or the deep-frying of a certain ingredient can stand out as a geographical signature to the knowing eye or taste bud.
This in mind, let's concur that Flamethrowers Grill inside Benny's bar is not just Mexican food, but more specifically New Mexican food as in the Land of Enchantment, home to Santa Fe and Albuquerque boasting many of its own culinary stylings and flair.
It's the type of food that has native New Mexicans stopping by, diving in, then looking up from their plates long enough to shoot "That's it" looks into the kitchen, according to owner-chef Patrick Bach.
Bach and his wife Dorothy are the fast, friendly, two-person crew that comprises Flamethrowers, which is a new venture inside a 55-year veteran operation. Benny's bar, high-top tables and patio seating are also Flamethrowers' to use, just as Benny's serves as the only place to buy a drink: perfect symbiosis.
But to enjoy your meal, you'll have to contend with dive bar static like loud laughter, the crack of pool balls, blaring jukebox music (and regular live music) and an ambience enlivened by video and table poker, touch-screen games and many an emptying pitcher of beer. Some folks will hate the atmosphere, while some will enjoy their meal more.
You probably already know if you're the dive-bar type. If you don't, the food is worth the experiment.
The Frito Pie ($5.75), a casserole of beef, Fritos, Monterey and cheddar cheeses, red or green chili and sour cream built atop a corn tortilla in a paper bowl (served with real silverware) provides a fun and deeply satisfying intro to Nuevo Mex. Heat, salt and crunch combine in an awesome mound, as is the case inside the chicharrone burrito ($5.75). That won unanimous acclaim at my table, with pintos and pork cracklin' (meat fried with a little skin still on, creating a crunchy texture), enriched by well-balanced green chili.
Try the Big Ass Burrito ($6.50) if you like rice in your wrap, and the egg, potato, bean and cheese burrito ($5) if you prefer breakfast style. Most of the small menu invites a green or red chili choice, and with dishes from scratch and made to order, vegetarian requests and substitutions are painless. A must-try: the earthy red chili made from chili ristras, the common decorative bundles hung from adobe porch rooftops. They grow green, but ripen red and are then sun-dried, honoring a traditional preservation technique, but more importantly capturing a flavor that shines.
Bach, who roasts his own chilis from his fifth-generation family farm in Chimay' and a cousin's farm in Los Lunas, N.M., also creates three daily specials. I didn't make it to his ribeye with fries and salad ($9.95) or the Mexican burger ($6.25), but I can vouch for better-than-average bar nachos ($5.25 to $6.25) and a tasty starter taquitos plate ($4.75).
If sensitive, fear not Flamethrowers intimidating name: You can taste your food through the heat. And if you do need to douse a fire, the bar's not far away.
Flamethrowers Nuevo Mex Grill at Benny's Bar
517 W. Colorado Ave., 634-9309
11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
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