Casa de Sueños–Tularosa, NM

Casa de Sueños
35 St. Francis Dr.
Tularosa, NM
(575) 585-3494
Casa de Sueños

Casa de Sueños Restaurant in Tularosa

The city of Tularosa, a few miles north of Alamogordo, is not only one of the most beautiful towns in New Mexico, but it is one of the best examples of the unique culture and architecture generally associated with the Land of Enchantment. After being in Tularosa by chance on a Christmas eve and seeing the church lit up with luminarias and the celebrations of the parishoners, I now make it a point whenever possible to relive the experience if I can be in the area during the holidays.

Despite all the historical and cultural attractions of the area, though, there are surprisingly few places in this or any of the nearby towns to enjoy New Mexican cuisine. Casa de Sueños, judging from the cars in the parking lot and the mention it receives on the Internet and in travel publications, is the most popular and well known New Mexican restaurant in Otero County (with Alamogordo and Tularosa being the two major towns). By saying it is “New Mexican,” this really means that most food is served with either red or green New Mexican chiles, and it follows the standard menu found throughout the state.

Parking Lot

The sprawling parking lot of Casa de Sueños

Casa de Sueños is open daily, and seems to sponsor a number of banquets, private parties, and meetings of civic groups. Do not worry, though, because the restaurant is large enough to handle customers during the peak periods as well as any special parties that are booked.

Red Enchiladas

Red enchiladas

Red enchiladas with blue corn tortillas and an egg on top

Casa de Sueños stays true to the tradition of New Mexican cuisine by offering enchiladas served flat, with blue corn tortillas (optional), and a fried egg on top (this is also optional). Red Enchiladas are usually my preference, and that is how I ordered them here. The red chile contained spices and other ingredients that I call “adulterated” red sauce, but it was pretty typical of the type of red enchiladas I have found in southeast New Mexico.

What was not typical for the southern part of the state was the fact that blue corn tortillas were served in the enchiladas (these cost a dollar extra), making them close to the northern New Mexico version. They were served flat by default (usually I have to request them this way in the southern part of the state), so overall they were very good compared to other New Mexican restaurants in the region. Flat enchiladas are my preference because they seem to absorb more of the sauce and thus more of the flavor than ones served with rolled tortillas.

I was hoping for a red sauce that used a more pure red chile, but there was enough red chile to give it a good flavor. Everything else in the enchiladas was good (including the cheese), so I would have to say these were a good example of New Mexico enchiladas.

Stuffed Sopapillas

Stuffed sopapilla

Stuffed sopapilla with green chile

Stuffed Sopapillas are something I greatly enjoy when they are done well, but I was somewhat disappointed by the one at Casa de Sueños. The sopapilla had a good flavor, as evidenced by the plain sopapilla served as a dessert (although I think most restaurants would not serve a sopapilla for dessert after it had been eaten as a meal). A choice of fillings was available, and I thought the whole beans I ordered were good (whole beans were also served on the side). It comes with red or green chile, and the green chile I ordered was spicier than the red, but just as diluted with additives as the red chile had been. The sopapilla’s texture, though, was too heavy and not fluffy enough.

After trying both the red and green sauce I preferred the red, and I think I would have enjoyed the stuffed sopapilla more with the red sauce.

The Rice was mixed with corn and other vegetables, and was a little bit unusual for New Mexican restaurants.

The Salsa was a high point, with it being spicy but not tongue-numbing. It tasted as if it were made with fresh chiles. The chips were thick and good.


Cuisine: Mexican New Mexican
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Special Features: Lunch buffet (Mon.-Fri.), Sunday brunch

Most Recent Visit: Nov. 20, 2009
Number of Visits: 1
Best Items: Enchiladas, Salsa

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Special Ratings
star 5 Red Enchiladas
star 4 Stuffed Sopapilla
star 5 Beans
star 4 Rice
star 5 Chips
star 5 Salsa
star 4 Sopapillas

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Christmas in Southern New Mexico–Tularosa, NM

Nellie’s Cafe–Las Cruces, NM

Nellie’s Cafe
1226 W. Hadley Ave.
Las Cruces, NM
(575) 524-9982

As far as I can remember Nellie’s has the distinction of being the first New Mexican restaurant I tried in Las Cruces (other than La Posta in Mesilla). Nellie’s was the favorite of my relatives and the one we headed to first when we were in the City of the Crosses. From this time in the mid 1970’s until after 2000 I never noticed a change in the quality of Nellie’s, and it has always been as good as I remember from the first time I ate here.

The only thing that has changed, though, has been the hours (and of course the prices have gone up over the years). The last few times I tried to eat at Nellie’s I kept finding it closed, at first because they were only open a few nights a week and I went on the wrong night (I think they were open Fri. and Sat. night). Then I tried going at lunch, but always getting there too late (for a while I think they were open until 3:00 p.m., but by the time I made it there they were closing at 2:00). My last attempt was early enough, but they were taking one of their periodic vacations (I think they do it every summer and around Christmas time). Finally it has ended up that I have not been able to go there at all for several years. I understand that the family wants to have some time together outside of the restaurant, so I am not upset about Nellie’s hours– only disappointed that I have not been able to go in a while.

Nellie’s has always been my idea of what southern New Mexican style food should be. Lately I have found some other restaurants that are equally good or better, but Nellie’s has always been a good standard by which to compare everyone else. Others have told me the green chile is best, but I like the red because this is usually my preference when both types of chile are very good. It is seldom that I get to make this type of comparison in a single restaurant since one type of chile is usually good while the other leaves something to be desired.

Stuffed Sopapilla
The Stuffed Sopapilla is my favorite dish– probably not because it is better at Nellie’s than their other dishes, but because this is usually my favorite New Mexican dish when all of them are prepared well. Nellie’s stuffs it with red or green chile, beans, lettuce, and meat (or you can order it vegetarian). I liked it equally well with and without the meat, and I think the sopapilla itself and the chile are what make it exceptional. Although the beans and lettuce were pretty plain, they were very good in contrast to some other places where the lettuce is not as fresh as the beans are not as flavorful.

Red Enchiladas
Red Enchiladas are also excellent, and I always like to order them stacked. Because they do not come with blue corn tortillas they do not rise to the level that would put them above the stuffed sopapilla. The chile, though, is probably as good as you will find anywhere (including northern New Mexico).

Another item for which Nellie’s is famous is the Salsa. It is spicy, flavorful, and fresh. I have bought some to take home several times, and this is something I would suggest if you have the opportunity.

Closing Comments
Anyone who remembers restaurants from the 1970’s will probably know that many places placed an emphasis on utility rather than decor (unless it was a fine dining restaurant). Nellie’s, as a local hangout, provided all the tables and booths that could fit into a small space, and the last time I saw it nothing has changed. Many of the newer restaurants might be considered nicer, but I am glad Nellie’s still allows me to relive the memories of what have really been my favorite New Mexican food experiences in Las Cruces.


Cuisine: Mexican New Mexican
Cost: $$
Hours: Breakfast & lunch only
Smoking: No smoking
Special Features: Serves breakfast

Most Recent Visit: May 10, 2002
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Stuffed Sopapillas, Red Enchiladas, Salsa

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Special Ratings
star 5 Red Enchiladas
star 5 Green Enchiladas
star 5 Stuffed Sopapillas
star 5 Salsa

Penny’s Diner–Vaughn, NM

Penny’s Diner
1005 Hwy. 285
Vaughn, NM
(575) 584-8733

Penny’s Diner is the restaurant side of the Oak Tree Inn, a mini-chain of hotels that seem to be concentrated in “towns less than 2,000,” as they say on Prairie Home Companion. With a 1950’s diner theme, I observed real milk shakes being made and old fashioned hamburgers being grilled.

Although Penny’s is a chain, the one in the small wind-swept town of Vaughn has all the characteristics of a local restaurant, and has become a local hangout both for dining and take-out orders of coffee and food. One good thing about being a chain is that the home office in Wichita enforces a no-smoking policy in all its restaurants and hotels, a rule that would likely not be in force if local restaurants throughout eastern New Mexico are any indication.

As I have found in many restaurants, the waitress was unwilling to give me a clue about recommended dishes or what items the locals preferred. The Breakfast Burrito seemed like a good bet, though, and by the way is available any time along with all the breakfast items. The flour tortilla was lacking flavor, and did not taste home made, but thankfully was not dry or tough. The scrambled eggs inside were unexceptional. To add local flavor, though, the burrito can be smothered with either red or green chile at no additional cost. I was able to try both, and was impressed with both. The red chile contained ground meat in the style of Texas chili, but the flavor was pure New Mexico red. The green sauce tasted like freshly ground green chiles, and I thought was the better of the two toppings. The menu said the burrito came with hash browns. To my surprise, these were served inside along with the eggs, but I thought it turned out rather well. If Penny’s could serve its red and green chile throughout the chain from California to Buffalo, New York, it would likely have more customers than would fit at the diner style counter or the restaurant’s few tables. Overall this was not a great breakfast burrito by New Mexico standards, but would be more than I could probably ever expect in most of the states the restaurant serves.

The Orange Juice tasted institutional. Cups of coffee seemed to be a much better seller.


Cuisine: American
Cost: $
Hours: Open 24 Hours Daily

Restaurant Web Site: Penny’s Diner

Most Recent Visit: Sep. 21, 2006
Number of Visits: 1
Best Item: Breakfast Burrito

Special Ratings
star 4 Breakfast Burrito
star 2 Orange Juice