You haven't visited Albuquerque, until you've had huevos rancheros at the Frontier Restaurant, with one of their sugarbomb cinnamon rolls on the side.
The Frontier is the heartbeat of the area immediately surrounding the University of New Mexico, a.k.a. The Student Ghetto. It is the central, most vital organ in the body of the UNM student ghetto. It is that through which everything else in the area flows -- the quintessential social crossroads. Open 24-7, it is always there -- right across from the main entrance to campus at Central Ave. & Cornell.
During one period in my life, I lived in a house with five other people just across the alley behind the Frontier. It was like the dorm cafeteria. I would see my roommates there, rarely seeing them in the house. Any time of the day or night, I could pretty much count on seeing someone I knew (whether I wanted to or not). Sauntering in the back door, usually sometime after 11, I would see little klatches of 3-7 students, hurriedly cramming for an exam. The homeless would stop in, until they got booted for not buying anything. There would be the loner off in the corner with his coffee and Stephen King novel. The little busboy who doesn't seem to speak much English. To this day, it's still my favorite public place in Albuquerque to write. It's so easy to fade into the floor tile there and observe humans in action.
The Frontier has five dining rooms. It's huge. Their busiest time is every Sunday at noon, when they are reported to sell, on average, 7000 meals. The Frontier is a fast food factory, the likes of which I have never seen anywhere else. The food is good, and cheap, and served up quickly. What more could a late twentieth century American want?
Go in there during the day, and you might see Sen. Pete Domenici at one table, and a homeless guy with his bindle at the next table. In the adjoining room, a group of tattoo-coated, nose-ringed, 14 year olds, taking turns going outside to smoke. A couple of tables from them, a few UNM architecture professors in suits leering at halter-topped co-eds. The entire spectrum of human existence eats and hangs out at the Frontier Restaurant.
Constantly during your visit you hear 3-digit numbers called out over the speaker system. You don't mind this because one of those numbers will be yours, promising a meal just like the one you've had there many times before. The food at the Frontier is terribly consistent. My favorite is actually the vegetarian burrito -- best and most grub for your buck IMHO. However, I'm no vegetarian so sometimes I have one of their excellent broiled burgers, really economical breakfast plates, or a bowl of their sinus-clearing green chile stew. Order one of the breakfasts and you get a free cup of coffee. It's a good thing the coffee is free; I'd hate to pay for it. I guess I'll always be a coffee snob. I'll write about my favorite espresso shop in a future column. Oh, and the famous and infamous Frontier Roll alluded to in paragraph 1, must not be omitted and must be expounded upon. Let us say that not all of the Frontier items should be considered healthy (or desirable by this author). If the sugar and butter were removed from the average Frontier Roll, I think all that would be left would be a few flakes of cinnamon, and the plate. I would have included a photo of a Frontier Roll, but I don't order them very often. Anyway, without the odor/aroma, a photo wouldn't do it justice.
Another interesting thing about the Frontier, is that it might be Albuquerque's largest art gallery. Without digressing about Larry, the place's owner, I'll just say that he and his wife invest a good deal of their profit in local paintings, and they hang them all over the Frontier walls. (And five rooms make for a lot of walls.) Apparently, Larry is a big John Wayne fan. Last time I was there I counted four John Wayne portraits. I've seen others besides these. Besides the Duke, there are many representations of Native American chiefs and squaws, eagles, ravens, horses, snow covered landscapes, teepees, turquoise. You want to see some cheesy Southwestern Art? Have breakfast at the Frontier.
I've noticed, during 15 years of Frontier patronage, that many of their employees stay on for a long time. One would expect a high turnover at a place like that. Larry must take good care of them. I asked one fellow named Mark, who I've seen working there for years, about this phenomenon. He just said, "Yeah, it's pretty fun." Maybe the cooks and counter cashiers enjoy interacting with and seeing a wide range of people, much like I do.
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