Las Cruces, NM
There are two Nopalito Restaurants in Las Cruces, and I have been going to the original on Mesquite Street for just about as long as I have been in the area (since sometime after its opening in 1964 but I am not revealing the exact date!). I have always particularly enjoyed the salsa, although some of the menu items have been hit or miss.
I generally do not reward this type of restaurant with a rather exclusive “25 or above” rating, but I feel that its red enchiladas alone are worthy of giving this type of honor to the restaurant, not to mention the wonderful salsa made with chunks of fresh green chile and warmed so that the flavor can be enjoyed even more. Some other items are not as noteworthy, but I definitely think these are among the top red enchiladas in the state (and I could probably say the same thing about the salsa).
I am glad this restaurant has not had a Gordon Ramsay makeover because I enjoy the 1960’s style booths and tables, and if they changed it the nostalgia value of the restaurant would be lessened, even though I am sure the food would be just as good. Do not worry, though, because the seats and tables seem as if they have been refurbished or replaced since 1964, but just kept in the same style.
The cuisine here is New Mexican, with local red and green chile used in the enchiladas and other items. Of course all chefs have their own recipe for enhancing the chile and bringing out the classic chile flavor, and I think Nopalito is one of the best.
Chips and Salsa
The green chile Salsa here is renowned in the local population and also with just about anyone who has visited the restaurant over the years. This is a mild chile (by New Mexico standards) made with fresh cut chile and heated just before serving for a lasting memory that I have had since my first visit here. The smaller bowl of red salsa is more spicy, but I think the green one has the edge on flavor.
I think the chips are somewhere between nondescript and a detriment to enjoying the wonderful flavor of the salsa. Although I have been disappointed by the chips, I would not call them bad (I think Oklahoma has a corner on that market).
Red and Green Chile
The Red Enchiladas are ones that I would rate as among the best in New Mexico, at least in terms of the chile. Spices are added in a way that enhances the chile without overwhelming it, and Nopalito left me with one of the most pleasant chile aftertastes in my mouth that I have ever experienced. They use regular tortillas instead of blue corn (as is the custom in Las Cruces), but the chile is so good it really does not matter.
The egg was overcooked with regard to the way I ordered it. This and the chips are part of a pattern of little things that detract from the experience here, but not enough to change my opinion about the things that really matter such as the red chile and green salsa.
Besides the egg there is also a choice of beef, chicken, or sour cream if you want something besides plain cheese enchiladas.
I really should rate the red chile as five on the one-to-five chile scale I have set up, and I think it will be too spicy for some. I wanted to distinguish it, though, from the super hot chile found at some old style restaurants such as Pepper Pot in Hatch. There is a time in my chile experience that I like the spicy stuff, but I think Nopalito has the same good flavor without some of the possible side effects of extremely spicy food.
The Beans and Rice are excellent as side dishes, but especially the beans.
The enchiladas and other dishes have a side salad that looks like cole slaw without the sauce. This is a garnish and does not have to be eaten, but I think it is much better than at restaurants where they only serve lettuce.
The Stuffed Sopapilla is served as an individual item, and would be equivalent to the small order at Nellie’s. Even though it was small it was overkill with an order of enchiladas, but I enjoyed the flavors.
The stuffed sopapilla that is pictured came with green chile, which I also like but I do not think it is quite comparable to the red. It is a little spicier than the red but not noticeably so.
The Chiles Rellenos are made with Hatch chiles, and are topped with the same green chile used on the green enchiladas (both are very good). I still consider Chope’s in La Mesa, though, to have the best rellenos in the valley.
When I tried the Gorditas I found them less exciting that other items, but I need to have a more recent experience to give a more thorough review.
I think just about any dish here will be excellent by Mexican food standards, but the red enchiladas really stand out to me as a “must try” if you like this type of food.
South of the border and modern style Mexican restaurants are proliferating in Las Cruces, but Nopalito is one of the best places to go for traditional New Mexican style food. Hatch chiles have recently come into popularity throughout the country, but they have been a staple of Las Cruces cuisine all along. The green chile salsa at Nopalito, though, is probably one of the best examples of the green chile that can be found.
The other location of Nopalito is at 2605 Missouri Street, and it is also open seven days a week.
Cuisine: Mexican New Mexican
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes (But the restroom does not have a grab bar)
Smoking: No smoking
Most Recent Visit: Jul. 8, 2018
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Red Enchiladas, Salsa