MESA PROVISIONS INVITES YOU IN with a warm, casual ambience and a hip community vibe. But beyond the wood floors, exposed brick, and windows overlooking bustling Central Avenue, the laid-back Albuquerque eatery delivers elegant flavors in elevated small and large plates composed with local, seasonal ingredients.

“We’re doing something a little bit different in Albuquerque, serving upscale food in a very casual environment,” says chef and owner Steve Riley, who most recently helmed the kitchen at the Duke City’s Farm & Table. “I knew that wasn’t for everyone, so I thought a smaller venue was a better choice. We’re a small restaurant, but we have a lot of customers who walk here from the surrounding neighborhood.”

Word has spread about Mesa Provisions, which opened in August 2021, and Riley’s delectable dishes, which spotlight fresh, local farm fare. Black lentil hummus, for instance, is scooped up with produce from Growing Opportunities Farm, in Alcalde: crunchy King radish and hothouse cucumbers that have been tossed in fine herbs and lemon.

Mesa Provisions chef Steve Riley creates a menu based on what’s fresh and local. Photograph courtesy of Mesa Provisions/Sergio Salvador.

By July, Riley expects to have 75 percent of Mesa’s produce coming from local farms for his ever-changing menu. “I try not to repeat too many things,” he says. “That’s the beauty of our restaurant.” A few mainstays abide, including two Riley favorites: a green chile and sharp cheddar biscuit with red chile butter, and the signature smoked half chicken, glazed with red chile and honey and served with pepita crema, watermelon radish slaw, pinto beans, and tortillas. “They are two things that I wanted to tackle before I opened this restaurant,” he says.

An Albuquerque native, Riley once played bass in a punk band in the same neighborhood that now houses his restaurant. After getting a feel for the rhythm of a restaurant kitchen as an oyster shucker and garde-manger at the city’s fabled Le Café Miche, he realized he wanted to be a chef. “I just knew that this was where I belonged and where I fit in,” he says.

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Off he went to Chez Melange, in Redondo Beach, California. “That’s where I really fell in love with food and creating dishes,” he says. “We cooked seasonally, and our menu changed constantly.”

Inspired to open his own eatery, Riley came home to Albuquerque in 2017 to be part of New Mexico’s culinary scene. But opportunities take time, and it wasn’t until he saw the Nob Hill space that “things just fell together, all at the same time,” he says. “I like the idea of being independent and being creative under my own guidance rather than working inside someone else’s box.”

Ripe tomatoes are a favorite summer ingredient for chef Steve Riley. Photograph by Unsplash/Vince Lee.

Pick of Summer

Ripe tomatoes are a July staple at Mesa Provisions and a key ingredient in the towering Burrata Cheese Toast, made with sourdough bread topped with heirloom tomatoes, basil pesto, oozy burrata, and crispy prosciutto. “When you have the perfect tomato, you don’t have to do much to it,” says Steve Riley. “We just slice it thick and serve it with complementary things.”

Mesa Provisions
Wednesday–Sunday, 5–9 p.m.
3120 Central Ave. SE, Albuquerque; 505-494-5264