Most of the great conversations of my lifetime have occurred at the Frontier Restaurant over a bowl of green chile stew, sharing a cinnamon roll. There’s really no other place like it in New Mexico. When I was thinking of moving to Albuquerque from Amarillo, on my very first weekend apartment hunting, my pal Candi took me to the Frontier for breakfast on a Sunday morning. It was like going to Mecca for green chile lovers. It made up my mind – I had to get home to a state that served food like that.
The Frontier is located directly across the street from the UNM campus on Central (I don’t even know why I’m giving specifics – is there a New Mexican who doesn’t know the Frontier?) and there’s always a swarm of people on Sundays. Or any other time for that matter. I’ve been there in the middle of the night after a hoochy koo Lobo Club Banquet, wearing an evening gown with my hair up on my head, and it’s still a swarm of people, although at that time of night some of the people are cops patrolling the crazies. The hours have been changed to 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. – I hear they’re now avoiding that after-the-bars-close crowd. Having been there, and having been one of those people who should have just gone home from the bar, I think I understand. . .
So, if you haven’t been there, think 50’s order-at-the-counter diner (with lots of order takers) and rooms full of booths and tables. Rooms and rooms and rooms, five to be exact. The Frontier takes up an entire half-block, and is chock full of artwork ranging from kitchy to gorgeous. At those same Lobo Club Banquets, I’ve watched the owners of the Frontier purchase all sorts of art – one time there was a guy who painted a 6 X 4 foot portrait of Elvis with spray paint while we watched. In less than 15 minutes the King, in sunglasses and Vegas spangles, was pouting on the canvas, and the folks at the Frontier bought that piece for some exorbitant amount in an auction. He now hangs in the back room in a corner – I had the honor of sitting beneath him recently.
Great conversations. It’s a place that makes you want to sit for hours and chat, first while you wait for your number to appear on the LED screens overhead, and then while you savor your huevos rancheros and smothered burritos. The coffee has steadily improved over the years, and the fresh-squeezed orange juice is, I have to say, to die for. My favorite meal, for those of you who are new to the game and hate to have the order takers yelling at you to come on while you read the vast menu overhead, is a medium green chile stew with western style hash browns (crispy hash browns smothered in fresh green chile and cheese) and extra tortillas. And a medium iced tea. You put the green chile stew directly in front of you, the western styles at 2 o’clock and the tortillas at 10 o’clock. That way you can use your fork to tear off chunks of western styles to put directly into your stew, while using your left hand to handle the tortillas. It’s an art, eating like this, and since you’re talking so hard and so fast, you need to be able to do it without thinking. And just to make it all worthwhile, it’s cheap.
Of course, there are those folks who will tell you a visit to the Frontier is not complete without a Frontier sweet (cinnamon) roll. Huge and swimming in butter, and obviously fresh because they serve so many, the rolls truly melt in your mouth. If you’re lucky enough to go with someone new who offers you a bite of their roll, you can do the ultimately mean trick of eating the center as your first bite. You’ll be doing them a favor – never offer someone else the first bite of your sweet roll.
Wow! I’m making myself hungry.
If you get there and the line is wrapped around the front room into the next, just hang on. That line moves fast. It’s worth the wait. And if you want to view a menu ahead of time, or even print one to take with you, they’re at www.frontierrestaurant.com. Consider taking a dozen tortillas or a half dozen sweet rolls home with you. You’ll thank yourself in the morning.
So go. It’s as ultimately a New Mexican experience as anything you can do here. You’ll see local tv anchors and college students and district court judges and homeless guys and grandmas from the valley at huge tables with their kids and grandkids. Everyone’s welcome at the Frontier.