Edible Ornamentals Ultimate Chile Tour – Part 3: El Pinto Restaurant and Cantina

by Guest Writer on March 27, 2012 · 1 comment

in General Information

El Pinto Restaurant and Cantina, Albuquerque, New Mexico

El Pinto Restaurant and Cantina, Albuquerque, New Mexico

From Sichler’s we drove to the next stop on the ultimate New Mexican chile pepper tour which was El Pinto Restaurant and Cantina, a family owned Albuquerque landmark since 1962. There we met Operations Manager Jim Garcia who gave us a personal tour of the restaurant as well as the large manufacturing facility where they produce their own range of nine different Salsa recipe’s.

One of the many chile adorned patios at El Pinto with seating for up to 1020 guests.

One of the many chile adorned patios at El Pinto with seating for up to 1020 guests.

Located in the North Valley and set in a few acres of Cottonwood trees the sprawling complex of luxurious dining rooms and patios can accommodate up to 1020 guests making it the largest restaurant in New Mexico. Huge chile ristra’s and mature chile plants with chillies on them, along with other plants and flowers adorn the customer sitting areas and give it a warm and welcoming feeling.

Dozens of photographs hang in the entrance to the restaurant and fill a further hallway to the left of the entrance. These pictures document many visits to the restaurant by a huge number of celebrities, personalities, and VIP’s. We saw pictures of Hillary Clinton, President George W. Bush, and President Barak Obama all enjoying the sights, sounds and flavours of El Pinto. The restaurant was even invited to the White House to cook a special meal for Cinco de Mayo.

The El Pinto chile sauce production facility!!! Awesome!

The El Pinto chile sauce production facility!!! Awesome!

During the 1990’s many El Pinto’s customers began buying jars of El Pinto’s famous salsa’s to take home to eat. Initially the salsa’s were cooked and jarred at the rear of the restaurant kitchen; however, as the products gained popular attention El Pinto constructed an 8000 square foot purpose-built production facility in a separate building behind the restaurant. Health and safety requirements meant we couldn’t actually enter the production area, however, Jim did bend the rules a little and give us a peak through an office window at the line while it was in operation.

The first thing I noticed was the conveyer that automatically inverts the jars and sprays warm water into them to eliminate any risk of any foreign matter (for example pieces of glass) originating from the jars. The conveyer then turns the jar back over and feeds it into a multihead depositer which fills the jars from the cooking vessel. I didn’t actually ask about the cooking vessel but the sauce is hot filled into the jars, lids automatically fixed and torque tested. The filled jars are then processed through a cooling tunnel which reduces the temperature of the jars by spraying them with water of cooler and cooler temperatures thus stopping the cooking process. I didn’t actually catch where the jars are labelled…it might be before cooling. It was an impressive operation to say the least. Jim said the plant can produce 4000 cases in a day but they need one day of clean-down for every day of cooking. The whole operation can be run by a team of 10 people and El Pinto salsa’s can be found on the shelves of major supermarkets across the country.

On our way back to the restaurant we passed through the kitchen. I was rushing to catch up because I’d stopped for a moment to chat with the guy who grows all the chile plants. Although it is clearly a large restaurant kitchen it was smaller than what I thought it could have been. I quickly snapped a few photo’s including one of a young lady who was stripping seeds from some green chillies. Later I would learn what they were for.

De-seeding green chile in the El Pinto Restaurant kitchen.

De-seeding green chile in the El Pinto Restaurant kitchen.

We sat down together in the restaurant and enjoyed a terrific lunch. The starter was those green chillies I’d seen being de-seeded and sliced into strips which were coated with a secret recipe and deep fried. They were served in a large basket along with a garlic chipotle sauce if I remember correctly. I’ve had deep fried Jalapeno poppers before but never deep fried green chilli strips. A signature dish if I’ve ever seen one.

I think Dave ordered Carne Asada Tomales. It’s not on the menu but he said they’d prepared them for him before and sure enough, they produced it for him again. Joanna and I tried the buffet. Every day they serve an all you can eat New Mexican buffet with terrific dishes ranging from Tomale Pie, Green Chile Enchilada’s, Pozole, as well as a fully-stocked taco bar. Chile Rellano’s, again made with green chile instead of poblano, are available to buffet customers and cooked to order. Dave and Jim emphasized that chile rellano’s should always be served immediately after they’re cooked. The food was delicious and again we enjoyed several more examples of how chile is being used as a food and not just to spice something up.

Before we left the restaurant my beautiful and fast-thinking wife asked Jim if he’d mind a quick picture with us in the lobby. I’m sending him the high resolution version of the picture and I hope he finds room for us somewhere on his wall.

Joanna Plumb, Jim Garcia, Shawn Plumb, Fil Plumb at El Pinto Restaurant and Cantina.

Joanna Plumb, Jim Garcia, Shawn Plumb, Fil Plumb at El Pinto Restaurant and Cantina.

Edible Ornamentals

Our thanks to Shawn and Joanna at Edible Ornamentals for sharing their visit to New Mexico with us.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

avatar Phil Maynard April 28, 2012 at 4:25 am

That production facility is certainly impressive – more so than the face of the guy at the end in the last photo haha

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