This is another one of those “I can’t believe I didn’t share it earlier” reviews.
Tia Betty Blue’s opened about three years ago on a neglected stretch of San Mateo not far from Gibson, in a two-story building that used to house a cleaning business. It was a surprise to see someone try a restaurant there, where one of the most notable nearby landmarks is K-Bargain Plaza, a derelict strip mall. Of course, the location of Michael Thomas seemed equally strange when it first opened on a similarly unpromising section of Carlisle, and look how that went! Perhaps the benefits of the two spots are as similar as their downsides, because both are sandwiched between residential neighborhoods hungry for tasty options nearby. I know I appreciate both of them being within walking distance of my house.
In any case, though I appreciated Tia Betty Blue’s tasty food when they opened, that was around the time when I was developing the achalasia that made it hard for me to swallow – and spicy food was particularly challenging for me – so we didn’t go there much. Since my surgical fix, though, I’ve been having regular cravings for red chile. (Odd, since I’d always been a green-chile gal before.) Particularly, I’ve been wanting to eat at Tia Betty Blue’s.
Tia BB’s – as we call it at my house – calls out to me with a siren song of delicious, plentiful New Mexican food in a quirky, retro-hipster atmosphere.
The menu hangs on the wall to the side of the register on huge laminated sheets, and can sometimes be hard to see around the line waiting to order at the counter. There are take-out menus by the register, which may be easier to read if you can reach in and snag one. There are a lot of choices, so it’s nice to be able to take your time with the menu.
Tia Betty Blue’s does a great job with classic New Mexican food, like their $4 breakfast burrito stuffed with eggs, potatoes, and chile or salsa. (Of course, you’re likely to end up with a breakfast that costs more than four bucks, as it’s hard to resist adding meat or avocado or getting it smothered in red or green, any of which will bring an upcharge.)
My favorite thing on the menu is another of the least expensive items, the small Michelle Bowl. There’s a larger size, but I find the small one to be perfect for breakfast or lunch. Another New Mexico classic, it’s a simple bowl of potatoes and pinto beans smothered in red or green and topped with grated cheddar-jack and onions, with a tortilla on the side. It’s simple, but every part is great: perfectly roasted potatoes, tender garlicky beans, rich spicy chile. It adds up to much more than the sum of its parts… though for the best experience you should pay the extra buck for a fried egg, and maybe spring for sour cream or avocado too.
If you’re too hungry for the Michelle Bowl, the Big Burrito lives up to its name. Since the breakfast burritos are stuffed into a 12-inch tortilla, the tortillas for the Big Burrito must be enormous. I recently had one stuffed with calabacitas, and there was plenty left to save for lunch the next day. The calabacitas – a mixture of zucchini, corn, and green chile – was just the way I like it, with the zucchini cooked until full-flavored and yielding. Yum.
Not all the offerings at Tia Betty Blue’s are classics, You’ll find fun spins, too, like breakfast tostadas, veggie hash, Huevos Benitos (Eggs Benedict with green chile cheese sauce instead of Hollandaise), and chile-smothered omelets with a variety of available fillings. Arne had one stuffed with spinach and mushroom, and it was fantastic. Something I really need to try is a plain old grilled cheese on sourdough… smothered with red chile. That red chile, by the way, is my single favorite thing on the menu, and I order it every time. Richly flavored, spicy enough to leave a tingle but not to cause pain, it’s supplanted Duran’s as my favorite red chile in Albuquerque.
Another reason we’ve been to Tia Betty Blue’s so often of late is because it has so many great vegetarian options, and we’re eating vegetarian half time now (every other week). Both red and green chiles are available in either classic pork-enhanced or vegetarian versions. For the record, they’re also happy to accommodate gluten-free patrons.
Honestly, though, I don’t need extra reasons to eat here. The food is great, the staff is awesome, the dining room quirky and cheerful (and if it seems packed, check for seats in the lesser-known upstairs dining area). When the weather’s nice, there’s plenty of outdoor seating on a side patio set back and shielded from San Mateo traffic. What more can I say? It just makes me happy to eat here.
I have to confess that I haven’t tried anything but the New Mexican food, even though there are other options that look great. I just can’t resist the red chile. (I keep telling myself to try the Chicken Bacon Ranch Wrap or Strawberry Avocado Spinach Salad, but I haven’t done it yet.) Rest assured, though, that if you or your dining companions don’t love New Mexican food, there will still be choices for everyone, including the blue-corn buttermilk waffles that launched sister restaurant Tia B’s La Waffleria.