A Look Back at the Roadfood 1992 Edition–New Mexico

Roadfood 1992 Edition

Roadfood 1992 Edition

In my quest for nostalgia and information about old restaurants, I came across a goldmine of information from the 1992 edition of Jane & Michael Stern’s book Roadfood, published by HarperPerennial (a division of HarperCollins). One thing I love about this book is that it has its mission statement on the cover, which is to be a “guide to America’s best diners, small-town cafes, BBQ joints, and other very special eateries serving great, inexpensive regional food.”

This is largely the same mission I have for my Restaurant Guide and for many of the reviews published on this site. The Restaurant Guide lists places I find reviewed on the Internet in various cities, many of which meet the criteria set forth by the Sterns. Roadfood only lists a few restaurants per state, but it covers much of the United States (the 1992 edition does not have any listings for Alaska, Hawaii, or Montana). I am also very impressed that the Sterns were able to travel to all of the places listed and personally visit each restaurant mentioned in the book.

Somehow the Sterns got very good intelligence about which restaurants to visit, and this was in the age before the Internet was available. The restaurants included were obviously not picked randomly out of a phone book (one of my methods for finding places to eat in 1992), but there was a specific reason each one was chosen (I imagine they must have eaten in some places that they judged to not be worthy of inclusion in the book). In any case, I judge this book to be a treasure for restaurant historians (is it acceptable for me to invent a new field of academic study which I am sure does not actually exist anywhere?).

NEW MEXICO

There are a couple of reasons I would like to include the New Mexico restaurants in my first blog post about the Sterns’ book. One is that I found this book at the fabulous Coas Books in Las Cruces, a used book store that concentrates on excellence in books as much as the Sterns have done with food. Many of the best additions to my own collection have come from this store (I have always gone to the one at 317 N. Main although they have another location at 1101 S. Solano Dr.).

Also we got word this week that Tecolote Cafe in Santa Fe, one of the restaurants listed in the Sterns’ book, has closed. Now that I have this list I plan to deliberately put many of the ones that are still open on my list of places I would like to visit (some of them are already on the list). One of them, Nellie’s in Las Cruces is where I had lunch right before going to Coas where this book almost magically appeared, with Nellie’s being one of the first restaurants I spotted.

The Sterns list the restaurants alphabetically by state. I am listing all of them here, whether they are still open or not. I will only include a brief summary of the information about each restaurant (there is additional information available from other sources such as the Roadfood web site and later editions of the book).


Abeyta’s Mexican Kitchen–2805 San Mateo NE, Albuquerque.  Chicharrones, carne adovada, and menudo are what made the best impression.

Bien Mur Indian Market–Exit 234 off I-25 (Tramway Rd.), Albuquerque.  Come here for cookies and fry bread.

Chope’s–Rt. 28, La Mesa.  (Not surprisingly) they recommended the chile relleno. Since Dr. Paul Bosland, America’s foremost chili breeder, recommended that they get red enchiladas instead of green, they complied (and were very glad with the result). Note: The Sterns use the spelling “chili” throughout the book.

Don Jose’s Cocina–Route 279, Bibo.  They were surprised this place was even open (with the town’s uranium mine being played out and the area being so isolated). They described eating what was apparently the only thing offered that day (roast beef burritos topped with green chili and an enchilada platter). One fact revealed in the write-up was that the source of many of the Sterns’ tips was Bart Ripp from the Albuquerque Tribune.

Dora’s–401 E. Hall St, Hatch.  Supposedly the owner was trying to change the name because it was named after his ex-wife, but locals kept calling it Dora’s no matter what sign he put in front. What impressed them the most was the chili, red or green (I think they liked the red better). Dora’s had 3 levels of spiciness, and the Sterns said all of them were very good.

Double Rainbow–3416 Central SE, Albuquerque.  They were coming here for the coffee, and eventually tried the food (pastries, Zuni stew, East Indian pot pie, and sourdough bread filled with smoked turkey were all hits).

Duran Central Pharmacy–1815 Central NW, Albuquerque.  Located in a working pharmacy, they recommended both breakfast and lunch here. For lunch they liked the specials of the day (all were New Mexican cuisine). They were quite impressed by the freshly made tortillas.

Frontier–2400 Central SE, Albuquerque.  They recommended the sweet roll served with coffee. What they liked best, though (and said so), was the breakfast burrito with green chili. They also mentioned that the orange juice was freshly squeezed.

The Hacienda–2605 S. Espina, Las Cruces.  They enjoyed the blue corn enchiladas, tacos in blue corn shells, chili colorado, and chili relleno. Sopaipillas were a must with this, “to salve the tongue.”

Josie’s Casa de Comida–225 E. Marcy, Santa Fe.  Josie’s was said to be good for New Mexican cuisine or Southwest (chicken fried steak, etc.), but the real gem here was dessert (a wide variety and all of them were good).

La Tertulia–416 Agua Fria, Santa Fe.  The Sterns said “the food at La Tertulia isn’t as spectacular and hot as it used to be, but it still tastes good.” What they recommended, though, was the carne adovada, which was one of the best examples of it anywhere. This had become a very formal restaurant, by Santa Fe standards, that gave a very pleasant experience even if the meal wasn’t as good as it used to be.

M & J Restaurant–403 2nd St. SW, Albuquerque.  They say the burrito stuffed with carne adovada may be the best version of the dish anywhere, but I think they liked the blue corn enchilada plate equally well. They said it was great fun to watch people come in from the Greyhound station, just down Second Street, and “accidentally” discover some of the best food they have ever experienced.

Nellie’s–1226 W. Hadley, Las Cruces.  They pointed out that the sopaipilla compuesta was sensational, and the chili relleno and the salsa were also quite notable (they gave great compliments to the green chili, but apparently did not try the red). They also complimented the rich and lardy beans. At that time Nellie’s was open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

OJ Sarah’s–106 Guadalupe St., Santa Fe.  This was a restaurant that catered to locals, and which really shined for breakfast. They had so many great sounding items it was hard to choose, but the Sterns liked the cottage pancakes best (the batter was made with cottage cheese).

Powdrell’s Barbecue–11309 Central Ave. NE, Albuquerque.  They say the beef is done right, and they like this the best of the items served. The reason they like this out of the three Powdrell’s locations is the setting in the mountains, particularly at sunset.

Rancho de Chimayo–Route 520, Chimayo.  Their top recommendation is the carne adovada, or the sopaipillas rellenos for those who want something a little less spicy. The town is a destination in itself, having a history that goes back to the eleventh century.

Roque’s Carnitas–Corner of Palace and Washington, Santa Fe.  These are served out of a food cart at lunch time, and unlike most carnitas these are made with beef. Apparently you don’t have to choose the chili you want–these come with green.

Stop And Eat Drive In–110 S. Paseo de Onate, Espanola.  This is a true drive in (you eat in your car). They have jumbo burgers (which are not really very jumbo), but it sounds as if the best items are the burritos or the frito pies. The Sterns recommend getting Hawaiian Punch with a frito pie if you want the ultimate Roadfood experience.

Tecolote Cafe–1203 Cerrillos Rd., Santa Fe.  The Sterns state that the real mission of the restaurant is breakfast, and what they liked best were the atole pinon hotcakes. However, there were so many other excellent items on the menu it required many trips through town to try them all. For lunch they liked the carne adovada (excellent here, as they are at many New Mexico restaurants).

Truchas Mountain Cafe–Truchas.  This was a very small place that served traditional New Mexican food, but what they liked best was the stuffed sopaipilla with green chili. They also had interesting desserts that may be rooted in the area’s Indian history.

Woolworth’s–58 E. San Francisco, Santa Fe.  Apparently they take a local favorite, Frito pie, and turn it into an art form. Most people take it outside and eat it on the square. A bag of Fritos is torn open where they pour in red chili with hamburger meat and cheese. You will need a spoon because the Fritos become soft when saturated by the chili.

Some Comments
For some of these eating places I have written the narrative in the present tense as they are in the book. I did not research which places are still open, and whether I write in the past or present tense is not indicative of whether the restaurant is still in business or not.

There are only a very few points over which I disagree with the Sterns about these restaurants. I would say the Sterns are are correct about some major points such as (1) Red chile usually seems to be a better choice than green for items such as enchiladas, (2) Stuffed sopapillas are a better choice than enchiladas at many restaurants–mainly when they really know how to make the stuffed sopapillas the right way, (3) Blue corn enchiladas are usually preferable to ones made with regular tortillas. The Sterns did a very good job of trying different New Mexican items, and identifying which restaurants served the best versions.

I know that some restaurants have changed over time. I think the New Mexican food in Las Cruces was a lot spicier in 1992 than it is now, except at a few restaurants that are very local and do not attract a lot of out of town visitors. The Sterns comment on several restaurants throughout the state that the flavor is just as good if you get the milder version, and I believe that is the case now with Las Cruces restaurants which serve milder chile than in the past (I am now using the correct spelling of “chile” rather than the Stern version, but of course it is still good no matter how you spell it).

When I ate at La Tertulia it must have been when it was still “spectacular and hot,” because I remember it as being some of the best New Mexican food I have ever eaten.

I don’t know how the Sterns missed El Modelo in Albuquerque, which has been around since well before 1992, but for the most part I think they found and described the truly good New Mexican food that existed at the time.

El Paso Mexican Restaurants 1980

This list is presented for anyone who is interested in the Mexican restaurants which were in El Paso in 1980.  It grew out of a project I did to write down a list of all the Mexican restaurants from the telephone directory and then to make notes about the ones I tried.

Although the list was strictly for my own benefit, I think it might be of some historical use today.  It certainly provides a clue about the longest running restaurants in the city, since very few of the restaurants which were open in 1980 survive today.

These restaurants were listed under the “Mexican restaurants” section in the telephone directory. I believe that it is not a complete list of all the Mexican restaurants which existed, but it is at least 80 to 90 percent complete.

Many restaurants served the style of food I call “El Paso” style. This is a modification of New Mexican cuisine (the enchiladas are similar) combined with Chihuahua style Mexican food (such as tacos, chicken mole, caldo de res, and breakfast dishes, to name a few).

Looking back, I think I rated some of the restaurants too low, but this was mainly due to having very high expectations (and at some restaurants I may have tried the wrong thing).

The restaurants I visited are in bold.  All others were simply copied from the phone book to give me possible places to try.

RATING RESTAURANT ADDRESS PRICES COMMENTS
EL PASO
Acapulco 219 S. El Paso
Alberto’s 109 Castellano
star 3 Alexandro’s 309 E. Overland Cheap
Alexandro’s II 7720 North Loop
star 2 Arnold’s 2030 E. Yandell Mod
Bernadette’s 412 E. San Antonio
Burger Boy 5500 El Paso Dr.
Caballero 6400 Montana
star 2 Carmen’s Cafe 8257 Alameda
star 4 Casa Calderon 8450 Alameda Mod
star 4 Casa Jurado 226 Cincinnati Mod
star 2 Chicken Fiesta 3701 Montana Mod
Chico’s Tacos 4230 Alameda
star 2 Chico’s Tacos 5305 Montana Cheap
star 2 Chico’s Tacos 3401 Dyer Cheap
star 1 Chico’s Tacos 1235 McRae Cheap
Ciro’s Flautas 3203 Alameda
star 4 Cocina Arrambide 5908 Alameda Mod Also known as “Pepa’s”
Conchita’s 6933 Alameda
Coney Island 4121 N. Mesa
star 1 Del Camino 5001 Alameda Exp
Delicious Mexican Food 3314 Fort Blvd.
star 3 El Abajeno 9639 Dyer Mod
El Carioca 2104 E. Yandell
El Conquistador 4950B Hondo Pass
El Delfin 4822 Montana
star 3 Elmer’s 6305 Montana Mod
El Nido 6932 Gateway East
El Nopal 2314 Wyoming
El Palenque 705 1/2 S. El Paso
star 3 El Paseo 1611 Montana Cheap
El Ranchito 2030 E. Paisano
El Rancho Escondido 14549 Montana
El Rapido Cafe 617 S. El Paso
El Taquito Place 909 N. San Marcial
El Zarape 819 S. El Paso
star 3 Forti’s 321 Chelsea Mod
star 3 G & R 401 E. Nevada Mod
Grandma’s Tamales 7682 Alameda
Grandma’s Tamales 6041 N. Mesa
Grandma’s Tamales 1212 Yarbrough
star 4 Griggs 5800 Doniphan Mod
star 4 Griggs 9007 Montana Mod
Hamburger Hut 3700 Alameda
Hamburger Hut 8764 Alameda
Hamburger Hut 8541 Alameda
star 1 Imperial Cafe 510 Myrtle Mod
star 2 Jasper’s 2200 Yarbrough Mod
star 3 Julio’s 1201 N. Mesa Exp
star 4 Kiki’s 2719 N. Piedras Mod
La Casita 3333 Yarbrough
La Feria 419 S. Mesa
star 4 La Hacienda 1720 W. Paisano Cheap
star 2 La Paloma 1017 Delta Cheap
star 3 La Paloma 9415 Dyer Mod
La Pastora 7705B North Loop
La Posada 307 E. Overland
Las Casuelas 1310 Magruder
La Tapatia 8941 Old County
star 2 La Terraza 315 Mills Mod
Leo’s 7872 North Loop
star 2 Leo’s 6232 N. Mesa Mod
star 3 Leo’s 5103 Montana Mod
star 1 Leo’s 5003 Alabama Mod
star 2 Leo’s 5315 Hondo Pass Mod
Leo’s 2285 Trawood
Lily’s 4315 Dyer
Linda’s Jet 6211 Airport
Los Compadres 800 N. Zaragoza
star 2 Lucky Boy 4130 Montana Cheap Also called “Beto’s”
star 2 Lunch Box 527 Giles Cheap
Lupe’s Coffee Shop 2919 Pershing
Lupe’s Rushfair Center
Lupita’s 8929 Alameda
star 3 Lupita’s 1230 Myrtle Cheap
star 1 Mexican Cottage 904 Texas Mod
Mi Amiga 501 1/2 E. 3rd
star 1 Michael’s 122 S. Mesa
Miguelito’s 1500 Lomaland
star 4 Moe’s 6298 Alameda Exp
star 2 Montezuma 211 1/2 S. Kansas
Palmera Cafe 2301 Olive
star 3 Pancho’s 5229 Sanders Mod
RB’s 3905 Broaddus
Rachel’s 2138 Cypress
Raphael’s Missouri & Kansas
star 2 Riviera 5218 Doniphan Mod
star 3 Royal 2905 Alameda Cheap
Sarita’s 5541D Alameda
Sierra’s Cafe 3027 Alameda
Sixto 7227 Alameda
Sunset Inn 4532 N. Mesa
Super Burro 5901 Dyer
Taco Burger 1414 Airway
Tampico 119 W. Paisano
star 2 Tenampa 310C S. Florence Cheap
Taquito House 915 Myrtle
star 2 Tony’s 706 N. Piedras
star 3 Victor’s 5000 Doniphan Cheap
Villa Taxco 205 S. El Paso
ANTHONY
Adrian’s Anthony
CANUTILLO
Canutillo Tortilla Factory Canutillo
SOCORRO
Old Adobe Socorro
star 4 Riverside Saloon Socorro
AREA WIDE
star 1 Taco Bell 9 Locations

 

The four-star rating system was as follows:

star 4 Very Good.
star 3 Good.
star 2 Fair.
star 1 Poor.
 

El Paso has always been the “Mexican Food Capital of the United States” even though it has only claimed this title for itself recently.  In 1980 I would say that Mexican restaurants composed the majority, or at least a good portion of all restaurants in the city.  Most of these were mom and pop restaurants with budget prices and the standard dishes found in Mexican cuisine.  Most restaurants had at least one dish which was a standout, but the ones that had at least three or four are the ones with a three or four star rating on this list.

Today El Paso has many more Mexican restaurants than existed in 1980, but I think the number would fall far short of 50% of the city’s total number of restaurants.  There are many more styles of Mexican food available than in the past, representing several Mexican states in addition to the always popular Chihuahua style cuisine.  What has not changed very much, though, is that restaurants still tend to be mom and pop establishments with fairly low prices and food which is familiar to the general population.  There are more health conscious restaurants now, and in general I think the choices are much better now than they used to be.

Some notes about individual restaurants are as follows:

  • Arnold’s served the same food as Leo’s, but was owned by a different family member.
  • Casa Jurado–a brother opened the Casa Jurado on Doniphan (which is still operating).
  • Del Camino at one time was one of the best restaurants in the city, but in 1980 it was going through severe problems that led to its closing a short time later.
  • Forti’s is largely unchanged today from the way it was in 1980, except that I think they have added some more good dishes.
  • Griggs on Doniphan was my favorite restaurant in the city.  Other Griggs family members operated La Posta in Mesilla, NM and El Pinto in Albuquerque.  However, I thought the food at Griggs was the best of the three.  The Griggs recipes are now served at Peppe’s Restaurant in Canutillo (on Doniphan Dr.)
  • La Hacienda was another favorite of mine.  Amigos Restaurant at 2000 Montana opened after La Hacienda closed, and served the food from La Hacienda.  As far as I know this food is still available.
  • La Terraza was another “Leo’s” restaurant.
  • Lupita’s on Myrtle at one time was my favorite place for lunch because they served home style Mexican plates (it changed every day, and you had very little choice about what was served, but it was so good it changed my thinking about what was “authentic” Mexican food).  By 1980 it had changed more to the standard restaurant model, though.
  • Moe’s was great, and one of its secrets was that it used lard in the food (it still had many loyal patrons until the time it closed).
  • Montezuma was known for its breakfasts, and many people picked up burritos to take to work with them.
  • Pancho’s was good in El Paso at the same time it was bad to terrible just about everywhere else.  Once I got to eat at the original Pancho’s (that was either on Alameda or Paisano), but I’m not sure if it was still open in 1980.  The original Pancho’s had the best food of any of the locations I tried.
  • Canutillo Tortilla Factory is today known as the Little Diner, and is well known on many national hole in the wall food guides.  In truth, though, the food then and now is not much different from at least a couple of dozen other restaurants that are listed here.

Oklahoma City Mexican Restaurants 1983

This list is a transcription of notes I took about Mexican restaurants in Oklahoma City in 1983.  The full list includes restaurants I copied from the telephone directory (and which were listed as “Mexican restaurants” in the yellow pages).  Star ratings are for the ones I visited.

Oklahoma City had a much greater percentage of one-star and two-star restaurants than other cities included in this series of historical posts.  In this respect I think Oklahoma City was actually representative of most cities in the United States at the time.  It had more Mexican restaurants than most cities, but to me the quality seemed much lower than in Texas and New Mexico cities.

Some of the one-star restaurants had pure Anglo style food that did not even rise to the level of the Tex-Mex served at the majority of restaurants.  There is term which is now used called “Okie-Mex,” and I think this also would describe most of the Mexican food in 1983.  I did find some restaurants on the south side (Capitol Hill) that served more authentic Mexican food, either exclusively or in addition to the Tex-Mex menu.  I remember Las Rositas as having some dishes I had found in El Paso at some of the better restaurants there.

I remember A&T Garcia’s as being the best Mexican restaurant in town, and this seemed to be a combination of California and New Mexico style Mexican food (with red and green chile used in place of the brown gravy-like “chili” used in Tex-Mex restaurants).  Mostly, though, I thought they just had better quality food.

The difference between 1983 and today for Mexican food in Oklahoma City is striking, and I would say authentic styles of food are prevalent in the central and south areas of the city.  A large number of restaurants serve Aguascalientes (Calvillo) style food, although many also offer American style dishes on the menu.  You are probably more likely to find truly authentic food if you go to a take-out restaurant, taco truck, etc. than in a sit-down restaurant where they serve you at the table.

In the lists I made for Austin and Albuquerque, I could see how the regional Mexican styles which had developed in the area (Tex-Mex and New Mexican cuisine, respectively) had seemed to make the population more accepting of authentic Mexican food which came along later.  Oklahoma City did not have its own regional style of Mexican food, but early restaurants such as El Charrito made Tex-Mex the preferred style here.

The more authentic Mexican food served in a number of restaurants now may be largely due to an influx of immigrants from Mexico, but a large number of long time residents have become fans of this food as well.  In these and other ways I think Oklahoma City is very representative of a number of U.S. cities.

My goal for this article is not only to provide nostalgia but also to allow trends to be observed about how Mexican food has changed in the U.S. over a relatively short period of time.

RATING RESTAURANT ADDRESS PRICES COMMENTS
DOWNTOWN
star 4 A&T Garcia’s 409 W. Reno Exp
Chicano’s 1203 W. Main
Chuy’s 401 W. Sheridan
Delgado’s 1135 N. Hudson
star 3 La Roca
412 S. Walker Very Exp Too expensive
Que-Pasa 100 W. Main
star 2 Yolanda’s
1021 N. Western Exp Fairly authentic
NORTHWEST
Casa Bonita 3601 NW 39
star 2 Chi-Chi’s
4239 NW Hwy Exp
star 2 Don Serapio’s
11109 N. May Exp
El Chico 2226 N. Bdwy
star 1 El Chico 2909 Paseo Exp
El Chico Villa Prom
star 1 El Chico 6014 N. May Exp
star 1 El Fenix Quail Spgs Mall Very Exp
El Zocalo 4600 W. Reno
star 1 JC Garcia’s 3000 W. Britton Rd. Exp
star 2 Las Chalupas
825 NW 23rd Mod
star 2 Last Cafe of San Jose
2625 W. Britton Rd. Exp Too expensive
star 3 Monterey House
4533 NW 39th Mod
star 1 Nino’s 6509 NW Hwy Exp
Papagayo’s 12100 N. May
star 3 Taco Palace
4200 NW 39th Mod
CAPITOL HILL
Chi-Chi’s 1024 SW 74th
El Chico Esplanade Shopping Center
El Rancho Sanchez 5804 S. Western
star 2 El Chalan 3325 S. Robinson Mod
La Roca 948 SW 36th
star 3 La Roca
333 SE 29th Mod  Changed to Mino’s
star 3 Las Rositas
2608 S. May Mod
Los Tacos 1311 SW 44th
Los Trillo 2608 S. Robinson
star 3 Mi Tierra Cafe
1412 S. Walker Mod Open weekends only
Monterey House 705 SW 59th
star 2 Ninos 7220 S. Walker Exp
Ninos 5425 S. Penn
star 3 Pablo’s
1408 SE 15th Exp Too expensive
Pancho’s 5733 S. Western
Pizarro’s 2908 SW 59th  Out of business
Tacoville 3502 Newcastle Rd.
MIDWEST CITY & DEL CITY
Casa de Zamudio 6308 E. Reno
Chi-Chi’s 6100 Tinker Diagonal
Del Taco 4320 SE 15th
El Chico Heritage Park Mall
Hacienda Hernandez 4733 SE 29th
Hernandos 11211 NE 23rd
Pancho’s 1224 S. Air Depot
EDMOND
star 1 Acapulco 400 S. Bryant Mod
star 1 Pepe’s 1701 S. Broadway Mod
MOORE
La Roca 111 S. Broadway
Moore’s Little Mexico 1743 N. Broadway
NORMAN
Border Crossing 606 W. Main
star 1 El Palacio
120 E. Main Mod
Johnny’s Mex Food 1118 N. Berry
Taco Fiesta 2110 W. Lindsey
Zamudios 428 W. Robinson
YUKON
star 3 Poquito de Mexico 422 W. Main Mod Enchiladas excellent. Tacos & hot sauce are lousy
TUTTLE
Cisco’s Tacos 813 Main
AREA WIDE
Taco Bell 13 locations
Taco Bueno 12 locations
Taco Mayo 5 locations
Taco Tico 5 locations

 

The four-star rating system was as follows:

star 4 Very Good.
star 3 Good.
star 2 Fair.
star 1 Poor.