New Mexico's Fast Food Hits Different

Once a chain, Mac's Steak in the Rough now operates a single location.

Last year, I embarked on a cross-country road trip from Los Angeles to Pennsylvania with the intent of sampling gas station snacks and regional pizzas. This year, I drove across the country with a different goal in mind: America's lesser known fast food. Burgers, fries, sandwiches, and deep-fried delicacies were the name of the game—oh, and Celsius. Jesus Christ, I drank so much Celsius on the drive my heart felt completely outside of my body.

Of all the U.S. states I've driven through this past year (18, by my count), New Mexico contained the most enticing fast food. They have Whataburger, In-N-Out, the severely underrated Blake's Lotaburger, and tons of little food stands where green chiles, tamales, burgers, and plenty of Tex-Mex abound. It's a proverbial ransom of beef and spice—so it's fitting that a fan favorite in Albuquerque is Mac's Steak in the Rough, a fast food drive-in known for its deep-fried steak fingers.

What is Mac’s Steak in the Rough?

This old-school New Mexico drive-in specializes in chicken fried steak fingers served with white gravy. That's right, steak fingers. Steak fingers are also strangely referred to as "finger steaks" in Idaho. You probably already know or can ascertain what they are, but here's the Idaho Beef Council to clue you in:


Beef is cut into finger-length strips, then breaded or battered, and quickly fried until golden and crispy. Cuts of beef used vary as do the recipes for the batter – recipes that tend to be guarded with the seriousness of a national secret or the Hope diamond. Often an order of finger steaks is delivered in a parchment-lined plastic basket (thus dispelling any lingering pretense) with a mound of French fries and some form of mandatory dipping sauce. For some locals, these are a near-addiction.

Though Idaho remains home to these breaded strips of sirloin steak, New Mexico's got its fair share, too. Steak fingers are surprisingly an outlier in the world of fast food; while there are plenty of chicken nuggets available, there are almost no steak nuggets. Show us your beef and bread it!


Mac's Steak in the Rough is a former fast food chain that once had multiple locations throughout New Mexico, but the chain has since diminished to a single outpost located on Menaul Boulevard in Albuquerque. In a world where money-hungry corporations are all too eager to franchise and expand, that's refreshing; I give all the respect in the world to Mac for prioritizing its commitment to quality food. Why did Mac's reduce to a single location? There's not much information available out there, but plenty of people are talking about it on Reddit.

Mac's, founded by Dave McCarty in 1949 in Artesia, New Mexico, has been an institution for nearly 75 years. Albuquerque's first Mac's opened in 1960, and it's been a favorite among locals ever since, as well as those passing through the state. The juicy steak fingers and signature taquitas hit the spot for road-weary travelers such as myself.

How Mac’s Steak in the Rough fast food tastes

The steak fingers (labeled as The Original Rough Dinner on the menu) cost $16.09, and they're awesome. These tender, beefy steak fingers are hand-cut and breaded on site, and when you dunk them into the peppery white gravy the whole experience feels deeply like Southern comfort. The Original Rough Dinner is a bit pricey, but hold up, because along with the gravy, these steak fingers come served with coleslaw, a single Hawaiian bun, fries, and a sprig of green onion. It's a whole dang meal.


It should be said that the slaw sucks. It's sweet and mushy and watery. But somehow—somehow—the slaw does actually add to the whole experience. It's incapable of standing on its own, but the sweetness is a pleasant addition to this otherwise savory meal. The Hawaiian bun is greasy, glistening, and also sweet, allowing for the construction of a nice little steak finger sandwich. The fries are straight cut and otherwise standard, but dunking them in white gravy is a singular fast food experience.

Something about white gravy feels wholly new to the fast food space. It's peppery, creamy, and reminiscent of home cooking. Oh, and the green onion isn't just a garnish: Biting into that taut sprig provides a pungent respite between steak fingers. This is a surprisingly balanced dinner, and moreover, it doesn't feel like it was mass-produced by a huge fast food chain.


My only knock on these juicy steak fingers is that the breading isn't very crispy. But is it supposed to be? I haven't had chicken fried steak in quite some time. The steak fingers would certainly be elevated with some crispiness, but that's the only path I see toward any sort of upgrade. Mac's is fast food excellence.

The menu also features signature taquitas, green chile burgers, seasonal strawberry shortcake, and even a steak finger burrito with green chile gravy. Though I haven't tasted the whole menu, everything I ordered was hearty, satisfying, and comforting in ways that large fast food chains only wish they could replicate. I'm glad Mac's consolidated to a single location, because it remains a beacon in a desert full of Wendy's, McDonald's, and Taco Bells.