Nicholas R Peña
High Noon Restaurant & Saloon in Old Town Albuquerque: Q & A Showdown!
In late 2015 I brought the culinary tour concept to Albuquerque. Albuquerque has so much to offer travelers that I hoped our tour guests would appreciate it as much as I do. Though you can find many delectable gems that provide a unique insight into our culture, cuisine, and history Albuquerque's Old Town tends to get overlooked by locals. Our first tour launched in Old Town and we ate everywhere! Several times. It wasn't hard to find the top restaurants in Old Town and create a memorable experience before we had an influx of visitors on our tours. One of our favorite restaurants in Old Town Albuquerque is High Noon Restaurant and Saloon. I remember eating at High Noon in my college years for the first time and being completely blown away! I have to admit, I judged the book by Its cover as I walked up to the old wooden door at High Noon. Boy was I wrong! The historical building and ambiance just added to the depth of flavor and authenticity of the meal. I kept that in the back of my mind for several years and when It was time to launch the Taste of Old Town Albuquerque culinary tour, High Noon was at the top of my list. Since then, I have had the honor of becoming friends with the amazing staff, managers, and owners of this establishment and after 43 years of business, High Noon is still one of the best local hidden gems based on Albuquerque the Magazines "Best of the city" votes for 2016.
Today marks the 43rd anniversary of High Noon, and I had an opportunity to interview Carla Villas and gain some insight into her experiences as the owner of this family establishment.
Here's how it went:
Food Tour New Mexico: How did your family come to be the owners of High Noon?
Carla Villa: You could say a fire started High Noon. My dad opened his first business, a liquor store, in 1960. He later expanded the business to include a small market and some of the first self-service gas pumps in Albuquerque. In 1971, our business was a casualty of a riot that began in Roosevelt Park and moved through downtown. Our store was burned and we ended up with a liquor license and a vacant lot. After deciding not to rebuild the store, my dad, who had always loved Old Town, moved forward with the idea of opening a restaurant. We were the third restaurant in Old Town! La Placita and La Hacienda were on the Plaza when we opened for business. Old Town was still a residential neighborhood in 1974, with lots of people living in homes and apartments throughout.
FTNM: Tell us about your earliest memory of High Noon… How old were you and what was your childhood experience like?
Carla: We leased the building in 1972 and began renovating it. The process took about a year and a half. My earliest memories are of long summer days spent buying ice cream at the Basket Shop and jumping beans and corn necklaces at the Covered Wagon with a couple of dollars given to me by my dad. My cousins and I spent hours exploring Old Town while my father dealt with the details of making High Noon come to life. My MOST favorite memory is of the night we opened High Noon. It was an invitation-only event. I spent the early part of the evening giving tours through the restaurant, pointing out antiques and sharing the history of the building. I spent the rest of the night perched on a bar stool between my still very dear friend Emily Salazar and Billy Marchiondo. I met everyone and shared Emily’s Brandy Alexander. When I grew up, that was the very first drink I ordered in a bar!
FTNM: Your dad is a very well known and influential man in Albuquerque, what is it like working with him?
Carla: It does seem as though most everyone knows my dad. Working with him is challenging because no one will ever out work my dad. No one. So you have to make peace with that! And then you just pay attention, because time with my father is an eloquent lesson about being a good human being. He keeps his word. He tells the truth. He helps others. It sounds simple, but it is extraordinary. I asked my son Charley, who works with him in our catering business, what it is like for him working with my dad. I’ll just use his words to answer. “I learn something new from him every single day. Working with Papa is humbling because you get the idea that the rest of us are just slackers, just never doing anything all the way.” That’s my dad.
FTNM: What has been your best memory of the many years that you and your family have been a part of the High Noon legacy?
Carla: We have celebrated nearly every important event in my family within these walls for 43 years: birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, baby showers, funerals. So it is impossible to pick just one. But my favorite part of the journey that has been High Noon has to be the holiday season. I love the holidays at High Noon! As much work as it is, I truly treasure being a part of our guests’ Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions. All those turkeys, the upside down tree, the rush of Christmas Eve. Greeting people who return year after year. Secret Santa with the staff. It is magical!
FTNM: Have to ask… have you seen any ghosts?
Carla: I’ve never seen one!! I have heard them. I have witnessed things moving around. I have felt something breathing on my neck, whisper as I walk past, call my name. I was in the building when my mom had a face-to-face encounter, but no! Me personally, never!
FTNM: What is your favorite thing to eat? On or off the menu?
Carla: At heart, I’m just an Italian girl who loves tequila! My most favorite thing to eat is rigatoni with brisket sugo (or my grandma’s gnocchi, which sadly, only lives in my memory now). At High Noon, you will usually find me with a steak salad, or some red chile beef bites. And a margarita of course.
FTNM: What do you hope guests take away from their dining experience at your restaurant?
Carla: My hope is that their visit is more than just a meal; that it is a bit of rest and a moment of connection, with the past, with my family, with each other. I hope they experience a bit of the unique and vibrant culture that is New Mexico. I hope they feel the warmth and hospitality that is my Italian family’s heritage. I hope they get to know some of my amazing staff because this is one interesting team full of personality and good energy. And, of course, I hope they find their favorite tequila and want to come back and see us again. And again.
For more information on High Noon, please visit them at http://www.highnoonrestaurant.com/