Mannies v. Frontier
By Steve “Mo” Fye
Huevos rancheros might be an iconic entry on New Mexican menus, but the recipe originated in Old Mexico. That, however, isn’t going to stop Burquenos from taking the dish and making it their own.
Perhaps second only to menudo, huevos rancheros is the breakfast of hungover champions. Science backs this up. The albumin in eggs bonds with and helps flush the toxins left behind after a night of boozy excess. The beans metabolize quickly to stabilize blood sugar levels without a crash. Chile heals all wounds and has been shown to boost the metabolism.
Originally, huevos rancheros was the fare of Mexican farmers and ranchers (thus the name) after early-morning chores were complete. In its simplest and ideal form, the dish consists of a corn tortilla, pinto beans and an egg or two topped with a tomato-based chile sauce.
Because I was raised in the Midwest, I still don’t automatically think of beans as breakfast food. I have, however, come to love the New Mexico theory that if you throw an egg on it, it’s breakfast. Then again, there’s seldom a time that putting an egg on an entrée is bad idea.
Every cook and restaurant has a personalized version of the dish. In Albuquerque, of course, you get your choice of red, green or Christmas. Some serve the dish with a flour tortilla. Some places add rice or potatoes. Lettuce and tomatoes? Why not? There will likely be shredded cheese.
So how do we judge huevos rancheros on an objective basis?
To make this food fight fair, I had to establish guidelines. Authenticity is no mirror of flavor and quality, so I chose to judge based on the components: Is the egg properly cooked? Are the beans tender and properly seasoned? Does the chile have a great balance of heat and flavor? Does the presentation make you want to dig right in?
For more than four decades, the UNM community and locals alike have flocked to The Frontier and Mannie’s for quick meals. I have a love-hate relationship with both, because I have eaten at both so often that I have occasionally had meals that fell far short of my expectations. Even picky food writers know that restaurants can have bad days, but a bad day can make a first-time guest never return. The vast majority of my meals at both have been delicious and satisfying.
Mannies’ huevos rancheros were pretty representative of the Albuquerque version of the dish, but came on a flour tortilla and were garnished with lettuce and tomato. The portion was large enough that I took some home. The chile (I decided to order Christmas for both reviews) had less heat than I wished, but was still very good.
Mannie’s offers both red and green chile in vegetarian or meat versions. The eggs were cooked properly, but the beans were a bit bland.
The huevos at Frontier are consistently good, and this time was no exception. The beans were refried and had the best flavor of the two restaurants. The chile was hot and still had excellent flavor. I sprung for the 50-cent addition of cheddar cheese.
Based on taste, Frontier comes out on top. Some folks might choose the larger portion at Mannies, but I go for flavor and heat when it comes to breakfast.
Steve “Mo” Fye is an instructional tech in the Culinary Arts program at Central New Mexico Community College and will throw an egg on anything, breakfast or not.