The Frontier Restaurant, that wacky barn shaped building across from UNM, is not only a warm haven for stress eating students, it’s also an Albuquerque food institution that draws locals and tourists alike. The interior is kitschy southwest brown, features multiple portraits of John Wayne, and stretches 3 large rooms back from the main entrance where you can choose between window seats, booths and tables large enough for study groups. Ordering is quick but can be nerve wracking if you don’t know what you want. Upon entering you face a long counter staffed with friendly people in paper hats waiting (im)patiently beneath flashing green lights for you to get yourself together and scurry over to their register. The large menu hanging over the registers is extensive, but I would guide the Frontier noob toward any of the following 5 items: (1 French Fries – Deep golden brown and incredibly crunchy. The thick outer layer suggests double frying, and no one’s complaining. (2 Tortilla Soup – Basically a very spicy corn and potato stew, topped with just a little shredded cheese that melts into gooey strings in the thick broth. Order some flour tortillas on side (instead of the chips it comes with), relax into the comforting flavors, and forget you’re surrounded by jocks and forgot your science homework. (3 Fresh Squeezed Lemonade (or orange juice if you roll that way) – I would categorize this as a splurge item cause it’s not super cheap, but if you like lemonade even a tiny bit, spring for this perfectly tart and sweet drink and skip the Minute Maid at the soda fountain. (4 The Frontier Sweet Roll – a rare “what the hell” order for me because it’s basically sugary white bread drenched in butter. BUT – it’s really sugary cinnamon flavored white bread LITERALLY swimming in warm butter, sooooo its crazy delicious. Make the table share it with you (it’s also huge) and you’ll feel less bad about yourself. Last but certainly not least, the almighty (5 Breakfast Burrito – the ultimate food prevention of, or remedy for, your hangover. Shredded hashbrowns from the griddle (this is a diner after all), shapely mounds of scrambled eggs, fluffy yet firm, (NOT overcooked into that flat egg patty), chopped green chile and thickly shredded cheddar cheese are loosely wrapped inside an airy yet substantial house made flour tortilla (you can also buy these poofy and floury delights by the dozen). Because the ends of the tortilla aren’t tucked, it is by nature a fork and knife burrito – which makes smothering it with a ladle of green chile stew from the serve yourself crockpot in the main dining area a necessity to bring the dish to it’s ultimate spicy sloppiness, and ready to inhale with gusto. Now, I have been accused of being a little weird about this burrito because I have eaten it so many times in the middle of the night after some serious drinking (back when the Frontier used to be open 24 hours before the bar fights spilling over onto their premises finally made them rethink the operating hours) or the next day as a hangover cure as reliable as the sun rise. But I think the burrito can hold up to sober palate. It’s simple, well proportioned, and consistent – they make a gazillion of them everyday so all the ingredients are always fresh and hot. So whatever your state of mind or body as you sit under the florescent lights clutching your receipt, waiting for the little red number to pop up signalling your order is ready, be certain that you are in for a very yummy food coma with healing powers.
If you have been to Albuquerque and not eaten at the Frontier, you’ll have to go back.