Albuquerque boasts plenty of sass and style | National

One of my fondest travel memories was of a trip I took with my grandparents on historic Route 66 from their home in Texas to California. One of our stops was Albuquerque, where my grandfather suggested dinner at La Placita Dining Rooms and Cantina in Old Town.

We had a lengthy wait for a table, so we occupied the time at the bar listening to the strolling guitar player strum Mexican love songs. When he asked for requests, my grandmother — emboldened by the three margaritas she had consumed while waiting — beckoned him over and asked if he knew “The Eyes of Texas.”

Without missing a beat, he segued from “Cielito Lindo” to the song that is a rallying cry for Texans everywhere.

Years later, I’m back in Old Town standing in front of La Placita, which appears trapped in a time warp. The adobe facade is still the same and the ancient cottonwood tree still stands in the middle of the dining room (a holdover from when the now-enclosed room was the courtyard of the original Casa de Armijo hacienda).

From La Placita, I stroll across the plaza to San Felipe de Neri, the oldest church in Albuquerque, begun by the Franciscan order in 1706. The church and the adjoining Rectory share a garden, which in late April is already abloom with roses.

In the plaza, historical plaques tell the story of the city and its place on the Camino Real (King’s Highway), which wound through a series of small ranching communities before linking up with settlements on the West Bank of the Rio Grande River.

THE REAL DEAL

Located in northern New Mexico’s high desert region at an elevation of 5,312 feet, Albuquerque may lack the polished panache of Santa Fe or the western chic of Taos, but it more than makes up for it in sass and style — a combination of the city’s Native American, Hispanic and Anglo heritage.

Currently undergoing a renaissance of…

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