High Finance is quite the lofty name for a restaurant located atop Sandia Peak, which towers over 10,000 feet northwest of Albuquerque. Yes, these are the Watermelon Mountains. The type of feldspar found in the rocks reflects pink in the sunset, and the trees serve as the framing rind. To get up here, you must be willing to shell out for the tram ride ($20 round trip for a single adult. There are child, senior and active military discounts available) and hop on to travel another 4,000ft up with happy and helpful tram operators. The tram entrance is in the same building as the gift shop and Sandiago’s Mexican Grill. There is a ‘flight’ every 15-30 minutes or so, since it takes about 15 minutes to go up one way.
The view is breathtaking, and if you’re snowsport inclined, the tramway also serves as the only lift to the top of their ski area. A smaller lift serves that part, but you must have all your gear on the tram on the way up as there are no shops to serve you once you’re at the top. The tram itself is an engineering feat: it took 2 years to build two towers straddling craggy mountain faces, hundreds upon hundreds of tons of cable spanning between them. No matter the time of day, the view is awesome. On top of Sandia Peak, there’s the tram holding area with small lockers, a bathroom and benches, the path down to the slopes, an observation deck and the High Finance restaurant.
If you can help it, make reservations in advance. The wait can be long on days the tram is backed up (as it happened to us due to high wind) and well, it’s the only restaurant up there! This only builds your expectations for the restaurant, and that may not be a good thing. High Finance is a round building; about half the walls are open windows to show off the wonderful 11,000 square foot view of nearby Albuquerque available at the top of Sandia Peak.
My friend and I took the next available reservation, which left us an hour to kill. It was pretty cold and nippy, so we huddled in the tram building until it was time to go back. The walk over is short, but the cold that day settled in quick as we had arrived just before sunset. Entering High Finance, it’s appropriate the decor is warm and cozy. Warm lighting and matching wooden paneling/ 90s decor almost give it a pub-like vibe. True to form, the menu items are little pricey, but we’ll just attribute that to the transportation fees up and down the mountain.
We ordered variations on hot chocolate: I had mine spiked with Bailey’s and Frangelico, and my friend a variant of a Thin Mint cookie with some peppermint liquor mixed in. Both were very good, but sadly one of the only highlights of the meal. We didn’t notice the doughyness of the first basket of bread we ate, probably because we were cold and hungry and devoured the loaf. The second loaf we noticed it may have been sitting around and warmed prior to serving, or even worse.. previously frozen. I understand the quirks of high altitude cooking that should be mastered in the restaurant, but bread shouldn’t become hard and doughy in the center after sitting out during the course of the meal.
We ordered some calamari to help tide the rest of our hunger before our entrees came out. Bad idea. I wasn’t expecting anything awesome, but we were served a plate of half overdone (apparently from the bottom of the previous fry up), half normal calamari. Our server offered to get us a plate of fresh fried ones, but we couldn’t be bothered to wait any longer. As my friend pointed out, “this sh*t wouldn’t fly in Gordon Ramsey’s kitchen.” If we had known that we would end up spending 3 extra hours on the mountain due to the tram stopping for the high winds, we probably would’ve taken up the offer for a new plate. Thinking about it now, the line cooks shouldn’t have even sent out the plate. Most of it was edible and we were hungry so we ate it. It was served with some sort of lemon vinaigrette that actually tasted pretty good with the subpar, most-likely frozen calamari.
Luckily, whoever mans the meat station was the culinary saving grace of High Finance. I ordered the filet medium rare and my friend the bacon wrapped pork tenderloin. My steak was topped with herb butter, and both plates were served with sauteed veggies and whipped sweet potatoes. Our meats were pretty spot on, but hailing from the self-proclaimed beef/BBQ/cowboy capital of the world (Texas, duh) I’ve definitely had better. But I will give credit because it was perfectly cooked to order. The veggies were a bit soggy – too much liquid? – and the sweet potatoes didn’t taste as punchy as they should have.
I ended up having a tall beer while we whittled away another hour before moving back to the tram terminal. No trams were going down, and everyone in the restaurant was staying put. Those in the terminal were hungry as well, and we saw many people grab to-go boxes of fries and chicken fingers to munch on during the wait.
I’ve heard of the ill-famed service in Albuquerque, but our young server was attentive and very polite. As for the food, it’s not worthy of the name ‘High Finance’, but the prices sure are. You are paying for the view and the experience it lends to hopefully better the dining ambiance. I wouldn’t splurge here on the food, but the drinks seemed reasonably priced – and will definitely hit you if you’re not acclimated to the elevation. Enjoy the tram ride up and snowboard back down and that way you’ll be less disappointed.