WALKING INTO LA GUELAGUETZA feels like entering an oasis. Bright Mexican papel picado banners fill the dining room like a rainbow of flowers climbing over a pergola. While the rest of the space is utilitarian and functional, with comfortable booths that line the room and tables that fill the center, a great sense of comfort radiates from the restaurant on Old Coors Drive, in Albuquerque.

When I meet four of the five Salazar brothers who run the place—Fidel, Gonzalo, Luciano, and Roberto (Abelardo was visiting family in Oaxaca)—I realize that the lion’s share of warmth is coming from them.

The Salazar brothers are La Guelaguetza’s only employees. While they are quick to credit Abelardo with crafting the menu’s savory recipes and Fidel with the desserts, the brothers work together seven days a week to make everything happen: prepping, taking orders, cooking, washing dishes, and cleaning. “When Abelardo creates a dish,” Roberto says, “we all taste his creation, talk together, and finalize the recipe.”

The Pizzabirria features braised-beef-filled tortillas and jus.

The Salazar family is from a small town called San Lorenzo Victoria in Oaxaca’s Mixteca region, a five-hour drive from Mexico City. There, the children first learned to cook and prepare traditional foods using a metate, or mealing stone. Roberto says that of the 12 siblings, 11 boys and one girl, “Most of our siblings who live in Oaxaca are musicians, and the five of us here are cooks.”

Fidel and Gonzalo smile as their brother Roberto recalls, with a gleam in his eye, an early memory of learning how to cook. “When you’re little and you’re hungry and you’re crying and nobody feeds you and you see eggs and tortillas, you think, Okay, what am I going to do?” he says. “Then you see the comal on the fire and you break the eggs and add some salt.”

Soon after Roberto arrived in New Mexico in 1997, Abelardo, Fidel, Gonzalo, and Luciano joined him. The brothers worked at a variety of restaurants in Albuquerque for the next two decades. In 2019, someone asked if they wanted to rent a building on Old Coors Road and start a business. Roberto gathered his brothers and told them, “It’s time to move on and do a restaurant together.”

from left Bright Mexican papel picado banners fill the dining room of La Guelaguetza.

The idea for La Guelaguetza, a word from the Zapotec language that signifies “reciprocal exchange of gifts and services,” was born. It’s also the name of a Oaxacan fiesta that’s been held for many centuries. Every July, the eight regions of Oaxaca gather in a vibrant intersection of culture, tradition, art, and community. For the Salazar brothers, the moniker serves as a compass, guiding every detail from the space itself to the lighthearted passion that fuels the menu to the way they welcome guests that walk through the door.

“We don’t only cook Oaxacan food,” Roberto says. “We just think about food. We cook food from all over Mexico and even New Mexico. But we gave the restaurant the name La Guelaguetza so everyone would know we are from Oaxaca.”

Historically, 16 different languages have been spoken in the region. The brothers compare the feast of La Guelaguetza to gatherings held by Indigenous tribes in New Mexico. “In Oaxaca, they asked themselves, How are we going to bring people together?” Roberto says. “When we gather for La Guelaguetza, we come together, celebrating the fact that even though we cook different foods and speak different languages, we are all Oaxacan.”

Birria tacos are a hit.

They opened the doors in November 2019. When the pandemic hit a few months later and the restaurant closed for indoor dining, they took phone orders and delivered food. But once they got out into the community, it was difficult for them to take money from families who were struggling, so they began simply feeding people who needed it. “I told my brothers, ‘If we survive this, people will remember and come to the restaurant when we are able to open again,’ ” Roberto says.

People remembered, and La Guelaguetza developed a steady clientele, lured by the moles, tacos, shrimp aguachiles, and the rich, deeply satisfying beef broth that accompanies everything from quesa-birria tacos to their innovative Pizzabirria. (That’s two large tortillas filled with slow-braised beef and cheese and topped with guacamole, sour cream, and cilantro, sliced pizza-style and served with a generous cup of beef jus for dipping.)

In spring 2022, the Salazars learned learned they had been named a semifinalist for a James Beard Award in the Best Chef: Southwest category. It was a busy Friday afternoon when the phone rang. “A woman said we had been nominated for a James Beard Award,” Roberto remembers, smiling. “My first response was, ‘Who’s that guy?’ ”

from left Luciano Salazar welcomes guests; Gonzalo Salazar visits with customer Selena Cisneros.

When Roberto realized what it meant, he almost cried. “The most important thing to us was that we are representing Albuquerque, New Mexico,” he says. “Second: our hometown, San Lorenzo Victoria, in Oaxaca.” Although the Salazar brothers didn’t advance to the final round, “We don’t think of ourselves as competing with anyone,” Roberto says. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from. If you’re from America, Europe, if you’re from Mexico, every food is special.”

The restaurant is famous for its moles, generously poured over savory poached chicken or braised beef and garnished simply with sesame seeds. “Americans have barbecue sauce, we have moles,” Roberto says. While the brothers are eager to explain how Oaxaca is the land of eight moles, one mole for each of the regions, they focus on three at La Guelaguetza: mole coloradito, mole picoso, and what’s widely considered to be the queen of all moles, mole negro.

When Luciano, who has been out running errands, comes in, he pauses at each table to smile and greet the customers who have started to fill the booths and tables. As he talks with guests, I can see that some faces are familiar and some are new. What’s striking is that everyone is genuinely welcomed as if they have walked into a home rather than a business.

La Guelaguetza’s three signature moles.

“A lot of people think they know moles,” he says. “When people come in and say, ‘We don’t like mole,’ we encourage them to try all three. They are often very surprised how much they love our moles.”

When the mole coloradito arrives at our table, its bright-red hue reminds me of micaceous clay. This mole has virtually no heat, yet so much complexity of flavor that I find myself dipping the tines of my fork in it repeatedly, tasting and tasting. I pick up guajillo chile, sesame, clove, and cinnamon, each ingredient hovering on the horizon but just out of reach. I consider the mole as a reflection of the annual Guelaguetza celebration: a place and time where, like the gathering of Oaxacan regions, individual ingredients come together to make something beautiful, new, and whole.

The table continues to fill with an array of colorful dishes that resemble a still-life painting: The moles are bright and bold, stunning in their simplicity. The Pizza-birria gleams like a sun, guacamole and sour cream swirling together on the surface, the top studded with bright-green cilantro and red onion. With such decadent sauces and braised meats, the Salazar brothers’ offerings might look heavy, but I’m struck with delicate and light flavors. La Guelaguetza achieves the balance that comes from genuinely skilled and unpretentious cooking. It’s the kind of fresh, confident fare many kitchens strive for—a goal that can easily get lost when history and ingredients are muddied by contributing factors like ego.

Visit La Guelaguetza on the corner of Old Coors Dr. SW and Alta Vista Ct. SW in Albuquerque.

The restaurateurs lean into taking their time when it comes to making dishes that are an integral part of their own history and their love for Oaxacan food. The beef brisket slowly braises in the oven for up to 13 hours, while the salsa de birria is composed of 26 ingredients. It takes seven hours to make before it’s added to the braising beef around the halfway point. “When you really love what you’re doing, it doesn’t matter how long it takes,” Roberto says. “We put all our love in the food.”

A look around the dining room before I leave shows one booth overflowing with a group of high schoolers. A family eats at another table near where a woman is sitting alone, having lunch and drinking a Mexican Coke. In some way, we all feel the community the Salazars have created, bringing us together with their slow-simmering sauces and braises, their fresh and vibrant take on moles from Oaxaca, tacos from Mexico, and closer-to-home innovations like the Pizzabirria. As with the annual La Guelaguetza fiesta, we are all welcome at this table.

Read more: Zacatlán Restaurant chef Eduardo Rodriguez brings fresh flair to Santa Fe.

Mole is often made over three days. On the first day, the focus is on gathering ingredients. The second day is for cooking and letting the flavors meld together overnight. On the third day, it is heated and served. This recipe is adapted from a list of ingredients provided by La Guelaguetza.

  • 20 Chilhuacle Negro chiles
  • 1 medium stick Mexican canela (cinnamon)
  • 5 whole allspice berries
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • ½ cup almonds, roughly chopped
  • ½ cup pumpkin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 5 large garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 large yellow onion, sliced
  • 2 ripe plum tomatoes, cored and cut in half
  • 2 tomatillos, husk peeled, cored, and cut in half
  • ½ cup raisins
  • 1 large ripe plantain, peeled and halved lengthwise
  • 8 cups warm chicken or vegetable broth, divided
  • 1 corn tortilla
  • 4 cups diced egg-yolk bread
  • (or brioche)
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 avocado leaves
  • 4 ounces Mexican chocolate, chopped (around 1 cup chopped)
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Sugar to taste, if needed

Makes 3½ quarts, or 28 half-cup servings. Sauce can be frozen.


Gather ingredients. Measure out the canela, allspice, cloves, cumin, and oregano. Place them in a small, covered bowl. Measure and place almonds and pumpkin seeds in a small, covered bowl. Put the sliced garlic and onion in a covered container in the fridge. Place halved tomatoes, tomatillos, and plantain in a covered container in the fridge. Place tortilla and bread in a covered bowl. Measure raisins and place in a small bowl. Place avocado leaves and chopped chocolate in a small bowl. If you are using homemade broth, make it today.


  1. Carefully break off the stems and shake out the seeds for each chile. If the chiles have a bit of moisture, use kitchen shears to snip stems and slice through the center of each chile to release the seeds.
  2. Place a large skillet over medium heat. Toast chiles in a single layer, working in batches, approximately five minutes on each side. This will allow them to toast evenly and thoroughly, but not completely burn. The inside of the chiles should turn a dark reddish brown, but not black. Transfer them to a large bowl and cover them with hot water. Place a bowl or plate on top to ensure they stay submerged. Soak for a half hour before draining. Reserve.
  3. In a dry skillet over medium heat, gently toast the spices for a few minutes, until you begin to smell their aroma. Transfer to a high-speed blender and pulverize the mixture into a powder. Leave it in the blender.
  4. Pour almonds and pumpkin seeds into the same skillet over medium heat. Toast the nuts until they are nicely browned. Add to the blender with the spices. Don’t blend yet.
  5. Add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil to the skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and onion and slowly cook until caramelized, approximately half an hour. Transfer mixture to the blender with the spices and nut mixture. Don’t blend yet.
  6. Wipe out the skillet. Turn the heat to medium-high and place the plum tomatoes, tomatillos, raisins, and plantain halves in a single layer, cut-side down. Let these cook untouched for around 15 minutes until charred on the bottom. Turn off heat. Use a wooden spoon to smash them and carefully pour in 4 cups of broth, scraping the skillet. Add this mixture to the blender. Don’t blend yet.
  7. Use the oven broiler (or an outdoor grill) to deeply toast, almost blacken, the tortilla and bread on all sides. Add to the blender. Blend for 3 to 5 minutes until silky smooth. Reserve.
  8. Add the soaked chiles to the empty, unwashed blender. Add just enough water so the chile puree moves continuously through the blender. Blend for 3 to 5 minutes until silky smooth. Reserve.
  9. Place a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add ¼ cup of oil. After a minute, add the chile puree and cook, stirring continuously until the mixture is thickened and resembles tomato paste. Add the blended mixture to the chile paste and cook, stirring occasionally, for around five minutes. Now add avocado leaves, chocolate, and remaining 4 cups of broth.
  10. Bring the mole to a simmer, then cover and cook for around 3 hours. Check on it periodically, giving it a stir. At the end of cooking, season with salt to taste and sugar if needed. Let cool to room temperature before transferring to the fridge to cool completely.


Reheat mole in a saucepan until it’s warmed through and serve with poached chicken, braised beef, or pork, along with tortillas, rice, and beans. At La Guelaguetza, the Salazar brothers garnish their mole dishes with sesame seeds.

Marianne Sundquist, a Santa Fe–based chef and food writer, would like to thank her friend Raúl Chico Goler, who helped translate during this interview.