Cooked at low heat for eighteen hours, Powdrell's beef is the kitchen's masterpiece. When it is done it is refrigerated then heated again – a process the menu says helps it become even more tender. But it isn't extraordinary tenderness that will make you happy; it is this meat’s flavor. Each handsome strip is saturated with smoke and oozes with natural beef juice; and the pile of them is spread with an explosive cinnabar-red sauce. Served on a platter with Texas toast and a basket of steamy yellow corn cakes and your choice of two side dishes (including corn on the cob, potato salad, French fries, beans, and cole slaw), and with maybe a dab of hot green roasted chilies on the side to spice it up, this is one of the significant Route 66 eating experiences.
There are plenty of other good meals to eat at Powdrell's, all of them (except Friday catfish) from the smoker: pork ribs, hot sausage links, chicken, and sliced pork. The beef is best, but if you simply must try some of everything, you can order a combination plate, which is a pound of assorted meats with all the fixins. There is also a family meal for four built around two pounds of pork ribs, sided by fries, corn, and toast. Desserts are smokehouse classics: peach cobbler (super sweet) and sweet potato pie (super mellow).
If you visit the New Mexico State Fair in September, you’ll have a chance to eat Powdrell’s excellent sandwiches and platters along the Midway; and we have heard that Willie Powdrell, the founder’s son, opened a barbecue restaurant of his own in the town of Zuni, New Mexico (near Grants). Of the original locations in Albuquerque, one is an historic house at 5209 Fourth, NW; our favorite is the less historical, but very scenic Powdrell’s way out east on Central Avenue. There is a special pleasure driving to the edge of the city around sunset, when the southwestern sky turns gold and the neon signs of the ancient motels begin to glow and flicker. It feels especially right to saunter into the low ranch building, then into one of the paneled dining rooms and inhale the aroma of slow-smoked meats.