Even though reality seems stranger than fiction a lot these days, life is not a TV show, and Albuquerque is more than what’s presented in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. You probably won’t see the leader of a drug cartel discussing business over chicken-fried steak in a booth at Loyola’s Family Restaurant, but what you will see is a lovely and true slice of life in the Duke City.
The vibe is pure urban Mayberry and neighborly. On any given day, you might spot three or four APD cars outside and the uniformed officers inside, sipping coffee from no-frills diner-style mugs as they wait for their steak and eggs ($13.79). A college kid your server knows by name walks here before class and sits at the counter next to the glamorous grandmother who can’t decide between pancakes and huevos rancheros and needs the server to call her a cab when the meal is done. New Mexico’s version of The Dude might be three seats down from you, scraggly haired and wearing a bathrobe over his shirt and pajama-like pants. When a multigenerational family gathers for Saturday brunch (Loyola’s is steadfastly closed on Sundays), the grownups talk politics, and the server refills coffee with a swift twist of the wrist that convinces you he’s double-jointed. All the employees act as though they know you (or if they did, they’d like you), and you probably won’t escape without a knowing wink or being called “my dear.” Loyola’s also comes by the “family” part of its name seriously. Loyola Baca opened the restaurant 30-something years ago, and now her daughter Sarah Cordova is at the helm. It’s the sort of place that proudly proclaims that their food is prepared “with tender, loving care.”
The building itself might lead you to believe Loyola’s has been around far longer than three decades. The striking, almost cartoonish mid-mod silhouette and neon coffee-cup sign immediately bring to mind Albuquerque’s Route 66 heyday, when tail-finned cruisers sailed by gas stations and motels galore on the now-more-mundanely named Central Avenue. The interior décor serves up a serious flashback to days when Naugahyde was the norm and teal was trendy. You’ll probably get a little giggle out of the roadrunner scene painted on the canister pendant lights overhead. If you happen to visit during the city’s internationally acclaimed Balloon Fiesta, you might choose a table beside the cheery, colorful balloon-themed mural on the back wall.
As far as old-school comfort food goes, you name it, they’ve got it. Breakfast is served all day, and while service stops at 2 p.m., you can still have a pork chop ($11.99) or liver and onions ($10.99) before dinner if you want. You can also get chips and super-fresh picante salsa ($2.95) in the morning, or you might opt for a slice of the chocolate cake ($3.95) under a plastic dome on the counter. Lunch is served all day, too, which means hamburgers, sandwiches, a trademark-challenging “Chick Filet” ($6.69), and sure, even a few salads.
Eggs can relax: Their dance card is full. They enjoy a dizzying variety of partners — tamale, carnitas, ham, steak, pork chop, and depending on the day, carne adovada or spam. They appear in at least 10 different omelets, from the Cactus ($11.99), whose name is more romantic than literal (it’s filled with meat, not nopalitos), and the Mousetrap ($10.99), which made me wonder why no one else uses this much-better name for a three-cheese omelet. Much like its gut-bombing burrito cousin, the relleno omelet ($11.99) is over-the-top delicious and will keep all but the most voracious of us sated for the day. If your appetite and waistband are more inclined to that sort of dish, check out the menu’s chuckle-worthy Button Busters — eggs served with a pork chop or steak, either country-fried or standard.
The hungriest among us might also go for the Super Burrito ($11.99), which bundles eggs, bacon, home fries, and cheese into a packet the size of my calf. More moderate is Sarah’s Special ($10.19), presumably named for Ms. Cordova. If the eponymous Sarah and I ever met, I have a feeling we’d be BFFs, since the simple, meatless breakfast special named for her — a scrambled-egg burrito topped with cheese and chile — symbolizes breakfast perfection to me. My poor little egg-averse goddaughter favors the Pobresito [sic] ($7.29), which wraps every-breakfast-thing but huevos in a tortilla. Tykes and the sweet-toothed will prefer the “From the Griddle” section of the menu, which includes pancakes of various sizes and stack heights ($2.15-$5.35), French toast “Supreme” ($10.99), and that perennial favorite of the young and young at heart, pigs in a blanket ($10.99). The deeply rich and filling biscuits and gravy ($8.59 with an egg) are not for the faint of heart (or those who disdain monochromatic meals), and carbophiles of all ages will rejoice over a cinnamon roll ($4.99 with a cup of coffee) doused in a sugary glaze and topped with a melting pat of butter for good gilding-the-lily measure. Then again, some days the minimalist bowl of green chile with beans ($6.99) can be just right, Goldilocks.
The home fries are prize-worthy: slices of starchy-sweet spuds, tender in some spots, golden-browned and griddle-crisped in others. They’re particularly fine when touched or slathered with Loyola’s green chile, which is tongue-tingling but not overwhelming. Practically every other side under the sun is available: pancakes, toast, tortilla, whole beans, refritos, ham, two kinds of sausage, and corned beef hash. For lunch, add French fries, cottage cheese, potato salad, and onion rings to that list.
The classic charm of Loyola’s has made the place an obvious go-to for location scouts. In addition to Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, the dining room has made cameos in In Plain Sight, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and several commercials. We all get a little thrill when we recognize one of our favorite places in the background on TV or the silver screen, and while Loyola’s has just the right kitsch and retro chic to make it an ideal choice for a film setting, to me it’ll always be the star. ◀