1949 in the Highlands: Restaurants Ahoy

Was Albuquerque’s Highlands District always a food desert? One would assume that a reasonable amount of motels would preclude some decent dining options; in a past post, I postulated that attached lobby/office complexes frequently had dining rooms, as well. Using a 1949 AAA Western Tour Book (generously lent by Sharon), I mapped the recommended motor courts in and around the Highlands area (from the east side of Carlisle all the way to San Mateo, for purposes of this blog). They are, in no particular order, the Ambassador Lodge (4501 E Central), the Aztec Court (3821 E Central), Cooksey Court (5210 E Central), De Anza Motor Lodge (4301 E Central), Premiere Motel (3820 E Central), and Zia Lodge (4611 E Central). Here they are, in all their Google Maps glory:


One interesting feature? None of them (according to the AAA guide) had dining rooms by 1949; they are all described as “restaurant convenient” or “restaurants nearby.” Similarly, a 1993 map of Albuquerque’s Route 66 attractions list only one historic cafe/drive in between Carlisle and San Mateo. Where were these restaurants, and was the definition of “convenient” any different than the one we employ today?

According to the 1949 city directory, the Nob HIll Business Center had a bakery and a barbecue–but that isn’t really the Highlands proper. Moving east along Central, diners could choose from:

-a frozen custard shop at 3704 Central (between Hermosa and Solano)

-Hoyts Dinner Bell restaurant at 3900 Central (between Aliso and Morningside, very close to the Aztec Court and Premier Motel)

-Paramount Cafe at 3911 Central (also close to the Aztec/Premier)

-El Cortez restaurant, at 4001 Central

-A & W Root Beer Stand at 4203 Central

-White Cafe at 4236 Central (next to Top Notch Drive Inn and Circle K Motor Court)

-El Sombrero Restaurant at 4415 Central (right next to the Ambassador Lodge, close to Zia Lodge as well)

-The Owl Cafe, at 4902 Central (right next to Coronado Lodge tourist court)

-The Wayside Inn restaurant at 5001 Central (on the same lot as Semke-Nichols trailer sales)

-the Iceberg Cafe at 5219 Central (combined with Iceberg Service Station)

-Duke’s Fish and Chips at 5407 Central

One thing stands out immediately: the relative dearth of chain restaurants (especially compared with the Highlands today). This is not at all surprising; after all, chain restaurants thrive in somewhat forgotten neighborhoods near large thoroughfares. The sheer amount of dining options puts today’s district to shame, as well. There’s no way to tell exactly what kind of food each place served, but it’s no stretch to assume that American fast food and Mexican food were the dominant modes. Given Route 66’s ethos throughout the Southwest–the reification of Americana alongside the fetishization of Native culture–this makes a good deal of sense. Also, I’m immediately crestfallen I never got to visit El Sombrero:


I digress. Another interesting pattern: all the liquor stores/cocktail lounges are concentrated between Morningside and Washington.

-Mike’s liquor store at 4003

-Ned’s Package Liquor at 4200 Central

-Heights Cocktail Lounge at 4217 Central

-Paramount Cocktail Lounge at 3911 Central

Morningside, in particular, piqued my interest–after all, that’s the eastern extremity of any restaurants I’ve ever frequented in the Highlands. Today, dining opportunities drop off precipitously as you continue eastward from there. Yet in 1949, restaurants were spread relatively equally along Central (in the Highlands, that is).

One more interesting pattern: two grocery stores within two blocks, both on Central.

-a grocery store at 3808 Central (between Solano and Aliso)

-Campbell’s Food Store Grocery at 4000 Central

At 1949, was the western part of the Highlands populated enough to support two stores? If I had to guess, this might change by the mid-1950s, when Highlands High, a bank building, and some doctor/dentist offices announced settlement in the eastern part of the Highlands.

To return to my original question, the 1949 AAA guidebook wasn’t lying. The motor courts/motor lodges/motor inns that it recommended were, indeed, close to dining destinations. But what about the hotels not recommended by the guidebook? Were they blighted at such an early date? Simply omitted? Whatever the answer, it remains obvious that the Highlands had a plethora of dining and lodging options in 1949–quite a departure from the district today.


2 thoughts on “1949 in the Highlands: Restaurants Ahoy”

  1. When my family conducted my Dad’s summer field trips in the 1950s, I took charge of the AAA guides to cull possible places to stop for the night from my perch in the back seat. My mother, in the front, handled the road maps while Father drove. I remember several oddities about the guides. 1. They seldom recommended “high end” restaurants at that time. I think the idea was that the guides were for car-touring families rather than the cognoscenti. 2. They seldom recommended Class A destination hotels either, probably for the same reason. 3. Very, very seldom did they recommend “ethnic” restaurants, particularly ones that were nothing but ethnic. Foreign was not for the AAA. In Albuquerque in 1949, you could dine and eat very well at the Alvarado Hotel but I’m not sure that the guide listed even that Fred Harvey classic. You could also dine well at the Sanitary Tortilla Factory on 3rd or 4th St. but it was very “ethnic.” Neither of those locations were in the Highlands area, of course. As we toured the country, my family ate a lot of memorable meals of regional specialties. Those restaurants usually weren’t in the guides. Some of the less memorable meals were regional too—I remember the Blue Parrot Cafe in Trinidad, Colorado, the first place you came to once you’d cleared the pass. My mother claimed that the proprietors cut the namesake parrot into quarters and then smothered it in red. The chile they devised could remove paint.


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