Chope’s–La Mesa, NM

Chopes Bar & Cafe
16165 S. Hwy 28
La Mesa, NM
(575) 233-3420
Chope's in La Mesa, NM

Chope’s in La Mesa, NM south of Las Cruces

When you approach La Mesa, about 15 miles south of Mesilla on State Highway 28, you get more of a feeling that you are approaching a religious shrine than a small farming village in southern New Mexico. The “holy ground” you are entering is for possibly the best chile relleno anywhere (for once the reality lives up to the hype). It is much like going to Mamou, Louisiana to experience the very best Cajun music, except in La Mesa pilgrims are given a gustatory reward (unless by some very bad karma or extremely unkind trick of fate they end up in La Mesa on a Sunday or Monday when Chope’s is closed).

Chope's kitchen

The kitchen is adjacent to the main dining room

At Chope’s you enter the realm of world-class roadfood (not the gourmet kind of Mexican food found at Rick Bayless’ restaurants in Chicago). It is no longer a question at Chope’s of whether certain items are good, it becomes a matter of whether they are the best. I get discouraged sometimes because the salsa at Chope’s may not be as good as at some restaurants in Las Cruces, the green chile may not be as fresh some times of the year as at harvest season, or some of the dishes may not live up to what I consider the signature dishes: the chile relleno and the enchiladas (both made with locally grown chiles). At other restaurants, however, I would hope to find just one outstanding dish, while Chope’s in my opinion the chile relleno is uncontested, the sopapilla is one of the best anywhere, and the enchiladas are certainly noteworthy examples of New Mexico cuisine.

Around 2007 the daughters of Lupe and Chope took over management of the restaurant, and I initially thought they had made changes to the food because I found red chile that was less spicy than before (and I did not have enough samples of the green chile to really tell about the spiciness). On a recent visit, though, I was served red enchiladas that were reminiscent of the old ones in their spiciness. When I asked the employees about it they said that was just the way that particular harvest turned out. Thus this is one case where a change in management of a long-running restaurant did not result in an appreciable change in the food (and the more visits I made the more I found this to be true).

Chile Relleno

Chile relleno

Chope’s chile relleno without sauce on top

If Chope’s is known for anything it is the Chile Relleno that somehow seems different from those served anywhere else. Of course the freshness comes from its local source in the Mesilla Valley. While the Hatch chiles, grown north of Las Cruces, have become famous worldwide, there is actually quite a large variety of chiles grown in both the Hatch and Mesilla Valleys that include the milder Anaheims that are largely exported and the more spicy varieties that are popular locally.

Chope’s serves a somewhat flat shaped chile that is quite spicy compared to many of the long skinny ones that are more common throughout the country. While being more spicy does not necessarily make a chile better quality, I do think this is an important criterion for a New Mexico style restaurant. It is also important for the chile to be roasted and prepared properly, as are the ones served at Chope’s. I have always been impressed that Chope’s does not put a sauce on top. The relleno really does not need to have any type of sauce, since the chile, the cheese inside, and the perfectly cooked batter stand by themselves and provide all the flavor needed for an excellent chile relleno.

Green Enchiladas

Green enchiladas

Chope’s green enchiladas made with fresh green chiles

The Green Enchiladas are some of the best found anywhere. While many restaurants use a puréed green chile to pour on top of the tortillas, Chope’s uses large chunks of fresh chiles that demonstrate the texture and flavor of the green chiles that are used. A white cheese is used that is perfectly melted (and it looks as if some yellow cheese is also mixed in). Chiles come locally from the Mesilla Valley (from the Provencio Farm near Anthony), and are at their freshest around harvest season.

Around the beginning of August postings appear on the Internet asking about the availability of freshly harvested Hatch chiles in various cities around the United States. Over the years I have noticed a fresher flavor to the green enchiladas around harvest time, and other sources have confirmed this as well. I asked the owner when the exact dates would be for this, and she stated that around September and October would be when they would have the freshly harvested green chile. Thus this is the time I would especially recommend for people to try the green enchiladas at Chope’s if they can (for me this has been a very special experience that I have not found at any other restaurant).

Many other places seem to either use too many additives, purée the chile too much, or use chiles of lesser quality that do not yield the same results as at Chope’s. This is why I think both the green and red enchiladas are better than at most other restaurants.

I would also make a personal note that I have observed a difference in the way they prepare onions in northern and southern New Mexico. The ones here (at least at Chope’s) are sharper than in the north, and thus I prefer for the enchiladas to be made without onions. Those who feel as I do, though, have to ask Chope’s to omit the onions because otherwise they will come in the enchiladas by default.

Red Enchiladas

Red enchiladas and chile relleno

Red enchiladas served flat with an egg on top, and chile relleno to the side

For about ten months out of the year (November to August) the Red Enchiladas are my preference at Chope’s, and only lose this status during harvest season because the green ones are exceptionally good here. Generally the red chile is the only one I eat in New Mexico and El Paso, so this is in no way a knock on Chope’s green chile.

Over the years I had noted that the red and green enchiladas were both very spicy, but the red ones were a little milder (my Previous Review on Steve’s Gastronomic Home Page reflects this fact). My current understanding, though, is that it all depends on the chile harvest, and the only way to know which type of chile is spicier is to ask the people working at the restaurant.

Regardless of the spiciness, the red chile at Chope’s always has a very good flavor. I am especially happy, though, when it also comes from one of the spicier harvests.

I would suggest having the enchiladas served flat (for both the red and the green). They come this way on the enchilada plates, but are rolled on the combination plates unless you request otherwise. The reason I like them flat is that they have more of a red chile flavor this way (I think they pour more chile on top, and it soaks into the tortilla better than when they are rolled).

I like the enchiladas without onions but if you want them this way you have to request it (onions are served in the enchiladas by default).

Stuffed Sopaipilla

Stuffed sopaipilla

Stuffed sopaipilla with a chile relleno on the side

Although my favorite dishes are the chile relleno and the enchilada, I discovered that I was missing out by not trying the Stuffed Sopaipilla until 2019. This is definitely one of the best ones I have tried, although in my opinion Nellie’s in Las Cruces remains as the champion in this category. One area where I think Chope’s excels, though, is in the quality of the chile con carne stuffed inside the sopaipilla. It was not so much the chile as it was the meat itself that made Chope’s stand out for me.

Customers choose between chile colorado con carne, chile verde con carne, ground beef, chicken, or bean as a stuffing choice for the sopaipilla. The one I tried was chile colorado, and I definitely thought this was a good choice.

For all the non-meat items (sopaipilla, lettuce, tomato, beans, etc.) I have always preferred Nellie’s over the other restaurants, and I believe this will remain my choice. When adding chile con carne into the mix, though, I believe Chope’s will be the first choice of many (and may become mine as well).

Combinations

Combination No. 3

Combination No. 3 with a taco, two enchiladas, and a chile relleno

Combinations come with rice and beans, and include three main items. In addition, they have a choice of adding a chile relleno for an extra price. Combinations are available for lunch or dinner, although they have a lower price Thursday for lunch (constituting the only true lunch special I have found at Chope’s).

Even at the regular price the combinations are a good value, and I definitely like being able to get enchiladas and a chile relleno in one meal. I would advise people, though, that enchiladas come rolled on the combination unless you ask for them to be flat (as they are in the above photo). On the enchilada plates, though, the enchiladas are served flat.

Rice and Beans
For some reason the New Mexican restaurants in the southern part of the state prefer Refried Beans, such as the ones served at Chope’s, to the whole beans that are normally found in the north. I do not usually pay much attention to beans that are not northern style, but the ones at Chope’s are cooked so perfectly that I think they are almost as good as the whole beans.

The Rice has not only been excellent on recent visits, but it has impressed me as being one of Chope’s signature items. I do not think it has been as consistent over the years as other items at the restaurant, but it now seems to be some of the best I have found anywhere in El Paso or southern New Mexico.

Chips and Salsa

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

The Chips are nondescript in the sense that they do not seem outwardly to be much different from any others. I just know that all the factors are there to always make them a part of the meal that I really enjoy.

The Salsa seems to have undergone a transformation since about 2007 when the daughters took over, and I think very much for the better. It used to be memorable for being so spicy it almost numbed the taste buds before you even got a chance to try any of the delicious main dishes. Now, though, I think it retains the freshness it had before, but with a heightened flavor that I enjoy a lot more. The spiciness is variable, and sometimes it almost gets to the point of numbing the mouth, but the excellent flavor is more noticeable than the heat. I do not know, though, if there was a conscious decision to tone the salsa down a little or if it is just my perception.

Sopaipillas

Sopapillas

A basket of freshly cooked sopaipillas going to a table of anxiously awaiting customers

Sopaipillas are light and fluffy, and are a recommended enhancement to the food, either during or after the meal (I prefer them with the meal). The red and green chiles are not always spicy enough that I think eating a sopaipilla with them would have much of an effect in ameliorating the heat, but it still would taste very good (you have to pay extra for the sopaipillas). Of course they are also good for dessert. In the past the sopaipillas have been rather greasy, but recently they have been perfect, and worth ordering even if you think your stomach cannot handle any more food. One item of note is that they give you a jar of honey with a squirt cap that does not make a mess all over your hands as would be the case at restaurants that provide the little packets that you have to open with your fingers.

The Bar

Chope's Bar

Chope’s Bar, located next door to Chope’s Cafe, serves the same food as the restaurant

What is now Chope’s Bar was the original restaurant, and is located next door to Chope’s Cafe (which was originally the Benavides family home). The bar serves the same food as the restaurant, and this can be a great help during the times that the restaurant is full and you have to get on a waiting list for a table. In fact, I think one of the major drawbacks of this place is having to drive for miles deep into the heart of the Mesilla Valley farm country and not knowing if you will face a long wait once you arrive (Chope’s does not take reservations, but at times the bar has had seating space when the restaurant did not).

The Restaurant

Part of the main dining room

Part of the main dining room

The restaurant itself is in an old house, and has what I would describe as a somewhat crowded dining arrangement. The main dining room is adjacent to the kitchen and is small, noisy, and busy, but also tends to be very friendly where it is easy to talk to the staff and other patrons. The larger dining room is quieter and provides slightly more space between tables, but they are still rather crowded.

A view inside to the waiting room

Patrons at Chope’s frequently spend time in the waiting room before a table opens up

The restaurant is open only until 1:30 p.m. for lunch, but the 8:30 p.m. closing time at dinner should give most diners enough time to reach La Mesa and wait for a table if necessary. I have discovered that they are pretty liberal on the closing time and lock the door about 1:35 to 1:40 at lunch time. They also keep the kitchen open past this time so that you can order items such as sopaipillas. I noticed that on Saturday they are open all day, but this seems to be the only day for which this is the case.

The combination plates are becoming my preference here because I can get the enchiladas and chile relleno together at a good price. The enchiladas on these plates, though, are rolled instead of flat. They will serve the enchiladas flat on request, though.

A great tip that I found by accident is to go Thursdays during lunch hours when all of the combination plates are on special (at what I thought was a very good price).

Coming from El Paso, La Mesa can be reached from IH-10 by taking the Vado exit (NM 227) and going west to Vado. You then turn left on NM 478 and go south less than a quarter mile, where NM 227 again goes to the west (the direction signs can sometimes be easy to miss). From Vado you should follow NM 227, and keep going straight after it turns into NM 28. Once you are on Hwy 28 La Mesa is the next town.

From Las Cruces or Mesilla it is easy to reach Chope’s– just take NM 28 south.

Chope's photo

A photo of “Chope,” for whom the restaurant was named

Lupe

Lupe managed the restaurant until her daughters took over

Lent Specials
Chope’s, like many other Mexican restaurants in the area, offers specials on Fridays during Lent that are appropriate for the season. Chope’s not only offers food that is not normally on the menu, but it comes at a very good price (and the special with a chile relleno offers the item I would most like to order anyway).

Lent special

Lent special with quesadillas, chile relleno, and lentils

The plate pictured includes Quesadillas that were made the traditional way I have experienced them in home style restaurants in the borderland. The Chile Relleno was as good as ever, but I do not know why it had a large amount of cheese sprinkled on top when this is normally not the case. The Lentils were excellent, with less salt and garlic than I usually find in the ones served in El Paso (and to me the ones at Chope’s are better).

Capirotada is also served with the Lent special but they were out when I went. Still, this was an excellent deal.

Things to Know

  • In chile harvest season the green enchiladas are especially good, and would be what I recommend (Chope’s serves freshly harvested chile from about the beginning of September to the end of October).
  • The chile relleno is the best I have found anywhere, and would always be a good choice here. The combination dinners have a choice of adding a chile relleno for two dollars extra, and I think it is well worth it to do so.
  • The bar is next door to the restaurant and serves the same food. It gives you faster service if the restaurant is full and there is a waiting line, but I am usually willing to wait for a table in the restaurant if necessary because it is quieter and I like the setting better.

 

Update May 2019:

I would like to point out a very interesting article on eater.com about Chope’s Restaurant. The article gives a detailed history of Chope’s, including the fact that it has been added to the National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service. It is one of the few restaurants in the United States to be so designated, largely because the qualifications for placement on the list are so rigorous. Chope’s has been run by the same family for over 100 years, and this is significant. One large factor for its designation, though, was Chope’s connection with the Braceros who worked on the nearby farms until the program ended in 1964. There are many reasons I recommend this article including the story of the Benavides family who owns Chope’s and insights about the food that they serve. Now the daughters of Jose (Chope) and Guadalupe (Lupe) Benavides operate the restaurant, and they have been faced with what is at times an onslaught of customers because of the publicity the restaurant has received on web sites and media. They also talk about the possible future direction of the restaurant.

Update Oct. 2019:

After visiting several New Mexican restaurants in 2018 and 2019 I just want to make a few comments about Chope’s. I consider this to be one of the best in the state, and definitely the best for the chile relleno as well as a very good choice for a relleno/ enchilada/ sopaipilla combination. There are very few cases where I think the green chile would be my first choice, but I make it a point to order it at Chope’s during harvest season (Sep. & Oct.).

Nellie’s in Las Cruces is my other Southern NM favorite, but here I usually order the stuffed sopapilla. People I know are divided about whether they like the red enchiladas better at Nellie’s or at Chope’s, but I think these are generally considered to be the two best places for them in the Las Cruces area.

The food in northern NM is very different in several ways. There my favorite item is usually the blue corn red enchiladas, which I think are better than the enchiladas I have had in the southern part of the state. Although I personally do not generally like the green enchiladas as much as the red, this is where I think the south is more competitive with the northern versions (even though southern NM serves regular corn tortillas instead of the blue one). During harvest season (September and October) I think Chope’s green enchiladas may even be better than the red ones, but the truth is that any time of the year the green enchiladas here are some of the best in the state.

I have tried several restaurants in the north recently, and these are the ones where I have found the best blue corn red enchiladas:

  • Mary & Tito’s in Albuquerque has one that is excellent, but I particularly like the one with meat (not a style of enchilada sauce that is generally found in the south).
  • El Bruno’s in Cuba, NM so far is tied for the best non-meat sauce I have found in the north, and I would say also in the state. I tried the meat sauce at El Bruno’s also, but I thought that for this Mary & Tito’s was superior.
  • Tomasita’s in Santa Fe was tied with El Bruno’s for my favorite red enchiladas (I was not able to try The Shed, La Choza, or restaurants in other cities such as Taos or Chimayo which are highly recommended, so this is not yet a scientific sample that will allow me to claim that I have found “the best”).

RATING: 26

Cuisine: Mexican New Mexican
Cost: $$
Hours: Lunch 11:30 to 1:30; Dinner 5:30 to 8:30; Closed Sun. & Mon. (Open all day on Sat.)
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Beer, Wine, Mixed Drinks

Most Recent Visit: Sep. 14, 2019
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Chiles Rellenos, Red Enchiladas, Green Enchiladas, Stuffed Sopaipilla, Salsa, Sopaipillas

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Special Ratings
star 5 Chile Relleno
star 5 Green Enchiladas
star 5 Red Enchiladas
star 5 Stuffed Sopaipilla
star 5 Beans
star 4 Rice
star 4 Chips
star 5 Salsa
star 5 Sopaipillas

 

Menu (Jul. 2019):

Thai House–Albuquerque, NM

Thai House
2000 Carlisle Blvd. N.E.
Albuquerque, NM
(505) 247-9205
Thai House

Thai House


Thai House is a restaurant that has been around for a while, but it recently moved to a new location on Carlisle Blvd. just south of Interstate 40. Specifically, the strip shopping center in which it is located is at the southeast corner of Carlisle and Indian School, and a very visible neighbor is the I Scream Ice Cream Store.

Thai House's sign is in the window

Thai House sign in the window

At the moment there is no outside sign, and you pretty much have to know the restaurant is here in order to see it. There is a hand made sign in the window shown in this photo, but even with this you almost have to be looking for it in order to notice it. I would say go to the I Scream place and then go one or two spaces to the north for Thai House.

Dining room

Dining room

The interior is very comfortable and “homey.” You almost feel as if you are in a Thai home because it has an open kitchen where you can watch your food being cooked as you sit at the table. The owner makes you feel very comfortable here and takes care of your needs, but she also is busy cooking and performing all restaurant duties in a one-woman operation. She did have some help when I went on a Saturday evening, but the actual cooking is a one person operation.

I have looked at the Yelp reviews and I think they do a good job of describing the restaurant, providing photos, and making recommendations. I can only add my two cents and say that the food tastes exactly as it looks–like it comes from a home kitchen in Thailand.

It was not actually the Yelp review that guided me here, but an invitation by my friend and Albuquerque restaurant expert Gil Garduño who himself had just tried the new location for the first time and was anxious to make another visit (and also included a review on his web site). I had the same desire to make a return visit, and did so on my way back from Colorado to El Paso. One tip I will give travelers is that this restaurant is very convenient from both Interstate 25 and Interstate 40 (but for now just do not expect to see a sign in front of the restaurant).

Pad Khing

Pad khing

Pad khing

When I was in Seattle and went to Thai restaurants frequently, ginger tofu was usually my first choice from the menu. I soon learned that the Thai name was Pad Khing, which was also frequently listed on the menu as ginger stir fry. The flavors of this dish are such that I do not think ordering it with meat causes noticeable enhancement, but the somewhat neutral nature of tofu allows me to enjoy the other flavors even more. I also did not worry about being full after eating a meatless meal because the amount of tofu and vegetables is usually substantial (as it is at Thai House).

Chinese medicine stipulates that ginger should be eaten early in the day when you need the energy it provides. I was never really aware of the principles of Chinese medicine when I was getting into the habit of ordering ginger tofu, but somehow I knew instinctively that it was a very good dish to order at lunch. This carried over to my instinct to order it for my first visit to Thai House at lunch time, although I think the flavor of this dish is good any time you order it. I would say the ginger flavor is somewhat subtle and is blended with the other ingredients in the dish as it should be. The tofu is just my preference and others will want to have meat, but I think it will be good either way.

Pad khing is not a spicy dish because the ginger itself has a very strong taste. The menu states that you can order your own spice level with any dish, but with restaurants like this one where they prepare the food in a home cooking style I usually figure that the chef knows how to add the appropriate spice level for the best flavor. I think I would have liked a higher spice level on this dish, but regardless of this the ginger flavor was very good and I was able to enjoy one of my favorite Thai dishes.

Curry

Massamun curry

Massamun curry

When I sampled my friend Steve’s dish I initially thought it was red curry but I later found out it was Massamun Curry (which I think is derived from Indian style curry combined with Thai flavors). Wikipedia states that Massaman curry typically contains cardamon, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, cumin, bay leaves, nutmeg, and mace (spices that are not typically used in Thai curries) combined with more local flavors such as chili peppers, cilantro seeds, lemongrass, galangal, white pepper, shrimp paste, etc. I do not know if this is Thai House’s recipe, and I am not sure why their name for the dish is a little different, but nevertheless the dish was very good. Wikipedia also points out that this is a mild curry, so perhaps this is why I did not think it had any lack of flavor even though it had a low spice level.

This dish also had a good amount of potatoes, another feature that I think separates it from the typical Thai dishes that are found in most restaurants.

Soup

Thom khar gai

Thom khar gai

The menu had a couple of soups listed under the “Chef’s Specials” on the menu, one of which was the Thom Khar Gai. This was my favorite dish that I have tried at Thai House so far, and it made me think that the chef’s specials designation has some real substance behind it and is not one made just for marketing purposes. This is a coconut soup flavored with galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce, and lime juice (several decidedly Thai flavors). It was specifically the lime leaves that enticed me to order the soup, based on dishes I have had in other restaurants with the same ingredient. The others add an important flavor component as well. I think several dishes at Thai House have some combination of these ingredients, but they are more pronounced in ones where the ingredients are part of the name (the khar in this dish means galangal).

For substance in this dish was mainly provided by chicken (gai) and mushrooms. In terms of flavor I would not try to substitute anything in this dish, including the spice level (it was not spicy but I do not think it is supposed to be a spicy dish).

After having eaten coconut flavored rice in Colorado Springs, I thought this was a fitting finale to this trip where I could indulge to an even greater extent with the coconut theme that seemed to be developing. This was a delicious soup, and one of the best I have had anywhere. It is not something that I normally order, because I usually prefer the curries or the stir fried dishes (such as pad khing). At Thai House, though, I think this is definitely a “must try” (even if others are like me and do not normally order this dish).

Other Observations
The Thai tea and the hot jasmine tea were both especially good.

It takes some time for the food to be served because each order is individually prepared. This is pretty standard for Thai restaurants, though, and it was nothing out of the ordinary.

The default for all the dishes I tried seemed to be at a low spice level, but the menu states that you can order the spice level you want for any dish. If I am able to return I think I would try a higher spice level on the ginger dish, but the others were ones I would not change from the default.

Prices are very reasonable, especially for this type of quality. The menu is posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page. I thought the selection of items was very good, and one of the good things here is that you can talk directly with the chef if you have any questions.


RATING: 24

Cuisine: Thai
Cost: $$
Hours: Closed Sun.
Accessible: Yes
Alcohol: No
Smoking: No smoking

Most Recent Visit: Aug. 10, 2019
Number of Visits: 2
Best Item: Thom Khar Gai

 

Asian Food Details

Tea: Jasmine (bags), Thai Tea
MSG: No
Buffet: No

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Thom Khar Gai
star 5 Massamun Curry
star 5 Pad Khing

Tomasita’s–Santa Fe, NM

Tomasita’s
500 S. Guadalupe St.
Santa Fe, NM
(505) 983-5721
Tomasita's

Tomasita’s


Tomasita’s web site states that it has been a family run operation for over 40 years, which reveals at least two important facts. One is that it is family run, and this may be an explanation for the fact that (to my taste) it has such good food. I had recently visited El Bruno’s in Cuba, New Mexico (another popular family run restaurant), and I thought this and Tomasita’s had equally good food largely stemming from their nature of being local small scale restaurants. The only thing that really matters is that they have good recipes that are prepared well, but family owned restaurants tend to be particularly adept at this.

The fact that it has been operating for over 40 years is another important piece of information for me. This would mean that they opened sometime in the late 1970’s, and this would be the correct timeline for the memory I have of another restaurant which I believe was in the same building (an old railroad depot). It was actually the depot for the narrow gauge railroad which went north through northern New Mexico. The restaurant previous to Tomasita’s, though, had a name something along the order of Santa Fe Station, making me think that this was the old station for the Santa Fe Railroad (the real Santa Fe Railroad station was north of this location a couple of blocks, and is now the terminus for the commuter train from Albuquerque). The restaurant I remember was upscale and served steaks. I have tried to look it up on the Internet and I cannot find any information about the former restaurant. The real point to me, though, is that I think the conversion of the building from an upscale restaurant to a traditional New Mexican one is a sign of progress in a city where the real estate prices seem to dictate that it have more and more upscale restaurants, but fewer of the affordable ones.

My first visit to Tomasita’s was on a busy day, but it was the off-peak period of the afternoon. There was a wait for a table, and I imagine that the waiting time gets much worse during peak period. Otherwise things went smoothly, and I was pleased with the service as well as the food. The price was in a range that I once thought was high, but compared to similar restaurants (even in cities not as expensive as Santa Fe), the prices here seemed very reasonable.

The menu has a large number of choices (so many that I think some of them would not be considered traditional New Mexican cuisine). They also have daily specials but I did not check the prices on these, and they are not listed on their on-line menu. For me, though, my usual choice at restaurants serving northern New Mexican food for the first visit (as well as most subsequent visits) is blue corn enchiladas. Sometimes I try other things, with the stuffed sopapilla being at the top of the list. I do believe that if you have other dishes that are your favorite this will influence your list of favorite restaurants, but I do want to explain that my rating of this restaurant is based primarily on the enchiladas.

Chips and Salsa

Chips  and salsa

Chips and salsa

The Chips and Salsa were very good, but I did not think they were notably better than at other restaurants. I was happy that they had different colored chips (some blue and some red). The problem with these was that the waiter did not bring them out until I asked for them. This usually means that you have to pay extra for the chips, but in this case it was just that the waiter forgot (not a problem for me as long as they do not spring me with any surprises on the bill).

Enchiladas

Red enchiladas

Red enchiladas with blue corn tortillas

The Blue Corn Red Enchiladas had all the required elements that I think make them good: flavorful and traditional tasting red chile, a spice level that goes just to the perfect point without being overly spicy, high quality cheese, and the blue corn tortillas that are almost totally missing in southern New Mexico restaurants but which are almost universally available in the northern part of the state (usually for an extra charge, though, as they are here).

There are quite a few choices involved when ordering enchiladas, such as red or green (the green is almost always the spicier of the two), blue corn or regular (I think the blue gives it a better flavor), stacked or rolled (usually the northern NM restaurants make stacked their default), choice of meat (I go with the plain cheese version at least until I find out which others are especially good), and onions or no onions (normally I omit the onions but in northern NM I find that they put in less onion than in other areas and it has less of a strong onion taste, so here I go with the onions).

One thing I really liked about the dinner is that they brought out the Sopaipillas with the meal without me even asking for them so that I could eat them with the red chile which was spicy enough that I really appreciated a sopaipilla to help tone down the heat.

Another thing that toned down the heat was the serving of Pinto Beans that, along with the cheese that topped it, had an excellent flavor and was another reason I love northern New Mexican cuisine.

The green chile is said to be good here as well, but I did not try it on this particular visit.

The Dining Room

Tomasita's main dining room

Tomasita’s main dining room

The dining room is in a converted railroad station where much of the original architecture is on display, and the high ceiling and large windows perhaps make it appear more spacious than it actually is.

There is also an outdoor patio, and the web site says there is a private room that can accommodate parties of up to 20 people.

Other Notes
This was definitely among my best experiences with northern New Mexican cuisine in recent years, and I cannot think of past experiences where the enchiladas were really any better than here.

Some reviews say The Shed has better New Mexican food than Tomasita’s, but it was a very popular day with visitors and the parking situation made it so that going to The Shed was not feasible (The Shed is located just off of the Plaza so the traffic was for many destinations other than The Shed itself).

I have to say, though, that the food at Tomasita’s was as good I expected that The Shed would be, so I was not the least bit disappointed with coming here instead. I do not know if the food (especially the enchiladas) are actually better at The Shed, but I would probably not recommend going there on a Saturday during the summer tourist season as I tried to do.

Tomasita’s has another location in Albuquerque which is said to be good as well. Personally I am glad I chose this location because of the higher elevation, crisper air, scenic landscape, and historic setting of Santa Fe. If you cannot make it to Santa Fe, though, I am sure the Albuquerque restaurant would be fine (not to say that Albuquerque does not have its share of crisp air, scenic landscape, etc.).


Tomasita’s Web Site


RATING: 26

Cuisine: Mexican New Mexican
Cost: $$
Hours: Closed Sun.
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: N/A

Most Recent Visit: Aug. 10, 2019
Number of Visits: 1
Best Items: Blue Corn Red Enchiladas, Pinto Beans, Salsa, Sopaipilla

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Special Ratings
star 5 Red Enchiladas (Blue Corn)
star 5 Pinto Beans
star 5 Chips
star 5 Salsa
star 5 Sopaipilla

Porter’s–Farmington, NM

Porter’s Restaurant & Smokehouse
2210 E. 20th St.
Farmington, NM
(505) 327-5979
Porter's

Porter’s


First of all, I want to clear up some confusion about what Porter’s is. The official name of the restaurant is “Porter’s Restaurant & Smokehouse.” When looking at different web sites I saw that it was everything from a steakhouse to an American restaurant to a barbecue restaurant. The answer is that it is all of these things under one roof, and I think they must be awfully busy preparing all these different types of food. After examining the menu, though, I asked one of the employees if this was a steakhouse that had barbecue or a BBQ restaurant that had steaks, inquiring about the restaurant’s true specialty and what is popular with local people. Her reply was that it was a barbecue restaurant that had steaks, keeping this in context that she was only saying what was most popular and not necessarily what was the best food.

A second question some may have may be “why was I in Farmington in the first place?” All right, this is probably not a question anyone has, but I will give an answer anyway. It is quite notable that Farmington has one of the last remaining K-Marts in New Mexico, and in fact in the entire country. Last year I visited the K-Mart in Roswell which has since closed, and it is very uncertain what will be the fate of the remaining stores. It seems that the K-Marts have items that you cannot find anywhere else because of the fact that they do not jettison items as quickly which are not the top sellers, while the typical big box stores do not have as much patience for anything which is not earning them the top profit margins. K-Mart has good items, but just ones that are harder to find.

Also pretty hard to find, though, is good barbecue. New Mexico has become one of the top barbecue states in recent years, but of course not all restaurants in any state are of equal quality.

I told the staff that I was from Oklahoma and that I had high standards for barbecue, and after the meal I let them know that this restaurant passes the test. I would classify it as Texas style barbecue rather than Oklahoma–two of their best items are beef ribs and brisket which are known as being Texas specialties. I could not pin down the origin of the sauce but it was more spicy than in most Oklahoma restaurants (and more spicy than most I have tasted in Austin).

Moreover, I found out that their most popular item was the beef ribs, and that people literally make trips from all four of the Four Corners states to eat it. This is not a reflection of there being very little competition, but the fact that these ribs are so good that really anyone would come here who had a reasonable means of doing so. I did not know any of this before coming to the restaurant, but I am glad I found out.

The staff also let me know that the beef is locally sourced, and I think that not only the beef BBQ but also the steaks are known to be of very high quality.

BBQ Plate

BBQ plate

BBQ plate with beef rib, sausage, and brisket

First of all, I should disclose that this was not my meal for the evening. Having previously eaten at El Bruno’s in Cuba, I had only samples of the meat while my friend and traveling companion (also named Steve) ate most of the meal. The BBQ plate includes three meats which are your choice, and you can choose side dishes as well. I do not remember whether Steve asked for recommendations or not, but I believe the rib and brisket are always his first choices at barbecue restaurants. I did not eat very much of any of them, but I thought all three meats were very good.

Of course I discovered that the Beef Rib is the restaurant’s specialty. This item is almost non-existent in Oklahoma, although I have had some recently in El Paso (which largely serves central Texas style BBQ). The beef rib at Porter’s included a very large portion of fat, but there was enough meat for both of us to cut off a reasonable serving and to be very satisfied (although I had a smaller appetite as was satisfied more easily). This was honestly the tenderest and most flavorful beef rib that I think I have ever eaten, and it was through asking the staff how they did this that I found out about the local sourcing of the meat.

The Brisket had a very good quality that I almost never get in Oklahoma, and which is not universal in the Texas barbecue world which includes El Paso. This was also a very good barbecued meat, which I would get as a supplement to the ribs (also in contrast to the rib’s high fat content, the brisket is very lean).

The Sausage was also very good, and I would say it was one of the best I have had anywhere. However, I am not that big a fan of BBQ sausage, so for me this was another item which took second place to the rib.

The sauce had a very good bite and in Oklahoma I would classify it as “spicy,” although it is not really at the level that New Mexicans think of as being extra spicy. The sauce went very well with the rib and sausage. For anyone who happens to see this blog before going to Porter’s, though, I would say to order the brisket plain with the sauce on the side. This brisket most likely would have been very good plain without any sauce, but I did not get to taste it this way.

The restaurant does give you a choice of whether you want sauce on the meat, on the side, or not included. I did like the sauce on the rib and the sausage.

Other Items
There is a popular buffet which I think includes all the BBQ items but not the steaks. I believe they also have regular meats which are not smoked on the menu and the buffet. The buffet is supposedly a bargain if you are fairly hungry. When I went the buffet was already closed (shortly before the restaurant’s closing time) but they did have the same type of soft serve ice cream machine I find at many barbecue restaurants in Oklahoma.

Summary
I did not have a large sample of this restaurant’s food, but I did try the beef rib which is what people “drive from Durango” in order to eat. This was an exceptional rib, and even more so because it had enough meat to satisfy what I would judge to be a normal meat portion when I consider the size of an average meal.

My other general recommendation is that prices here are extremely good for the amount and quality of food that you get.

There are other barbecue restaurants in Farmington that come up higher on the Yelp ranked list of restaurants, so I cannot say which one is actually the best. For beef ribs, though, it seems to be Porter’s.


Porter’s Web Site


RATING: 24

Cuisine: BBQ, Steaks
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Beer & Wine

Most Recent Visit: Aug. 6, 2019
Number of Visits: 1
Best Item: Beef Ribs

Special Ratings
star 5 Beef Ribs
star 5 Brisket
star 5 Sausage

El Bruno’s–Cuba, NM

El Bruno’s Restaurante y Cantina
6453 Main St.
Cuba, NM
(575) 289-9429
El Bruno's

El Bruno’s


I have made two treks to Cuba, New Mexico in recent years in which I stopped to visit the famous El Bruno’s Restaurant (famous to me, at least, because I read about it on Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog). The trips happened to be thirteen years apart, and in this time the original restaurant burned down and was relocated across the street (there is only one main road in Cuba, so you are technically correct when you say it is across “the street”).

On my first visit in 2006 I stopped to buy some salsa, but I was so impressed by the restaurant itself that I took photos of the restaurant and patio area to catalog its New Mexico style architecture and decor. I have included some photos from the old restaurant farther down on this page, and perhaps some readers will remember the original El Bruno’s. When I heard about how devastating the fire was, I was surprised that the mural from the old restaurant remained intact (and is shown in both the before and after photos). The new El Bruno’s has a pleasant patio area, but I am still a little saddened by the loss of the old one because it was such a special atmosphere.

El Bruno's front entrance area

El Bruno’s front entrance area

When El Bruno’s moved across the street I understand that it took over a former Tastee Freez, which is now the kitchen area. They expanded this area with the addition of a large dining room and patio area. El Bruno’s also has an Albuquerque location, but for anyone who goes to the restaurant in Cuba I think they will find the setting especially relaxing and enjoyable.

Chips and Salsa

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

They brought out the sopapillas with my meal before I could really dig into the chips and salsa. The chips and salsa were excellent, but especially notable to me were the very flavorful and fluffy Sopapillas.

Enchiladas

Red enchiladas

Red enchiladas with regular corn tortillas

There was a mix-up on my order because I ordered Enchiladas with blue corn tortillas but they came with the regular tortillas. They were happy to correct the mistake, and in the meantime I ended up with photos of both versions.

Blue corn enchiladas

Blue corn red enchiladas

The Blue Corn Red Enchiladas did not look much different outwardly, but the blue corn flavor was really excellent (for some reason they seemed to have more flavor than some others I had tried). In addition, I liked the fact that both these and the enchiladas with regular tortillas were served flat without the customer having to ask for it, and that the sopapillas were brought to the table at the beginning of the meal. These are important parts of what I conceive as traditional New Mexican cuisine.

The most important part, of course, was the chile. I decided to go with the red chile because this is almost always what I like best (and I believe the reviews indicated that this was the best one to order). I thought the flavor was very near the top of all the ones I had tried in New Mexico in recent years. I have not made it to The Shed in Santa Fe or some other restaurants where the chile might be a little better, but honestly I do not know how anyone could make it any better than at El Bruno’s. The sauce had a deep red color, it was spicy to just the right point, and the flavor seemed to include enough spices to make it interesting but it had nothing that detracted from the chile flavor. As far as I was concerned, these enchiladas gave me everything I could want in a New Mexican style meal.

The cheese was very good as well (something that cannot be taken for granted at all restaurants). Along with the excellent sopapillas, these enchiladas seemed perfect to me.

Meat sauce

Meat sauce in a side dish

There was one twist to my order, however. They asked if I wanted it with meat sauce, and I said no but please give me a little bit in a side dish so that I could try it. They also mentioned that more people ordered it with meat sauce than with the plain (vegetarian) sauce.

The above photo shows the small bowl they brought, and I tried it both in the bowl and on the enchiladas. According to the menu, the meat is the Herrera family’s favorite red pork chile recipe. I liked it in the bowl, but on top of the enchilada it changed the flavor so that other flavors did not come out as much, and I was glad that I had only ordered the meat sauce on the side. There are some restaurants where I think the meat sauce has a better flavor than the plain sauce (notably Mary & Tito’s in Albuquerque). At El Bruno’s, though, I definitely thought the regular red chile sauce was the one to get.

The beans and rice were excellent, but I was more focused on the sopapillas which really were an excellent enhancement to the enchiladas.

Photos of the Old Restaurant

The old El Bruno's

The old El Bruno’s

I took photos of the old restaurant in 2006 shortly before it was destroyed by a fire. This building was located on the east side of the highway, while the current building is across the street on the west side.

Mural

Mural at the old building

This mural fascinated me so much that I took a photo. Fortunately it survived the fire, and now is at the new restaurant.

The old patio

The patio at the old restaurant

The patio at the old restaurant seemed like a very relaxing place to eat a meal or spend some time, but at the time I was only able to buy some salsa and then be on the road again. Fortunately they were able to rebuild, and now have a restaurant in Albuquerque as well.

Other Notes
Enchiladas are the item I order at almost all New Mexican restaurants, so my rating of this restaurant reflects how I think the enchiladas compare with others I have tried. I did not try the green enchiladas, but they have good reviews (I just happen to prefer the red at most restaurants).

The red chile was spicier than many I have tried, to the point that sopapillas with honey caused a noticeable cooling of the mouth (the reason I do not wait until dessert to eat the sopapillas). However, the chile was definitely not insanely hot, and I think they did it just right not only on the flavor but also in its heat index. A wide range of items are listed on the menu, though, where it looks as if you can get different heat levels down to none at all if you wish.

Their salsa is for sale in bottles at their Cuba and Albuquerque locations.


El Bruno’s Web Site


RATING: 26

Cuisine: Mexican New Mexican
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Full Bar

Most Recent Visit: Aug. 6, 2019
Number of Visits: 1
Best Items: Blue Corn Red Enchiladas, Chips, Salsa, Sopapilla

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Special Ratings
star 5 Red Enchiladas (Blue Corn)
star 5 Beans
star 5 Chips
star 5 Salsa
star 5 Sopapilla

Red Rock Deli–Albuquerque, NM

Red Rock Deli
2414 San Mateo Pl. N.E.
Albuquerque, NM
(505) 332-9656
Red Rock Deli

Red Rock Deli


Mark, the owner of Red Rock Deli, seems to be the eternal optimist. While I say Red Rock Deli is closed on Monday, the Red Rock Facebook page says it is “open Tuesday through Sunday.” When I found out he actually spends weekdays in Blanca, Colorado working at his other business (Red Rock General Store) he said he is excited about both business opportunities, and that he enjoys the commute between them every week!

Actually I should point out that Red Rock Deli in Albuquerque is run by Mark’s wife, and the General Store in Colorado is owned by other family members (who also have a deli in the store and serve Polish sandwiches as the one in Albuquerque does). The Albuquerque enterprise resulted from Mark’s desire to operate a full blown restaurant with sandwiches and complete dinner plates. The restaurant is based on food from Mark’s native Poland, but he points out that he loves food from other countries too, and includes menu items from such countries as Germany and Ukraine.

Displays in the store

Displays in the store featuring imported items from Europe

Red Rock is also a European style grocery store selling such items as sausages, pierogi, jellies and preserves from several countries, candy, cookies, and much more. Mark said he makes periodic trips to Chicago (I believe every three months) to buy sausages, etc., and items on the shelves and in the freezer are all well within their proper shelf lives. Apparently there is a very high demand for his European delicacies resulting in a high turnover of the product.

Red Rock Deli used to be located on the far east side of Albuquerque, but recently opened a new store and restaurant on San Mateo Place just north of Interstate 40. It is open from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (closed on Mon.) and has table service for lunch and dinner as well as anything you would like to buy in the store to take home.

Pierogi

Russian Roulette

Russian Roulette

I was very happy for the opportunity to try Polish food for the first time since Maggie’s Cafe in Oklahoma City closed. I think if anyone had tried Maggie’s Polish specialties they would probably welcome the opportunity for more of the same as I did.

I immediately focused on two items at Red Rock Deli that corresponded to some of my favorites at Maggie’s–the stuffed cabbage (golabki at Maggie’s but I am not sure what it is called at Red Rock) and the pierogi. I think both would have been good choices, but my decision was swayed by the fact that the Russian Roulette pierogi plate had a sample of fillings with different flavors such as spinach, cabbage, sauerkraut, and potatoes with cheese. These are mostly evident only by cutting or biting into the individual dumplings to see what is inside (although I think the spinach one had a green color that could be seen through the dumpling). One of best parts of this plate was the variety, although I did like the spinach pierogi quite a bit.

Something especially recommended would be the optional onion and bacon sauce for the pierogi the restaurant makes in house.

I should note that they have frozen pierogi in the freezer section of the store which can be taken home, and I think these are also the ones served on the pierogi plate in the restaurant. Because of this I did not think the pierogi were the best items served at the restaurant, but the flavors were very good, especially with the onion and bacon sauce.

Art Wiener Schintzel

Art Wiener Schnitzel

Art Wiener Schnitzel

I was fortunate enough to be able to split two meals instead of just having my own, so I was treated to half of an excellent Wiener Schnitzel which I would say is the best item I tried. The meat was tender and the breading was excellent, as were the side dishes. The only comment I would make is to ask for a lemon slice to sprinkle on the schnitzel–to me this made it almost perfect (but the lemon is not provided unless you request it).

Potato salad and sauerkraut

Potato salad, sauerkraut, and German mustard

Of the three side dishes I thought the star was the Sauerkraut, which is made in house. This had the flavor I find in good versions of sauerkraut without the acid which is most pronounced in canned versions but which is also present is some home made varieties.

Although I was not a big fan of the Potato Salad my dining companion was, and I certainly did not dislike it in any way.

The German Mustard was very good but I did not find any items that were enhanced by adding mustard to it.

Sausage

Guinness beer brat

Guinness beer brat

On my visit to the new store I tried the Guinness Beer Brat with Sauerkraut. This is called “Double Barrel” on the menu because you get two of them, but since this was a snack for me rather than a full me I just tried a portion of one of them. This was enough, though, to convince me of the excellent flavor. Although I really liked the sauerkraut and the spicy brown mustard, the big attraction for me was the sausage itself, which made me think you can indeed get authentic European sausage in the Southwest.

The “General Store”
The new building, like the old one, is filled with display shelves stocked with imported food and other goods from Europe. While most of it looked very good and would be very useful if I knew how to cook, I decided I could at least get good use out of the sweet items that were available here but probably nowhere else that I knew about.

Cookies and candy

Cookies and candy from Red Rock Deli

These are several of the cookies and candy they have available, but buying these was a shot in the dark from the vast array of items that are available. All of them made very good snacks, and I did not try anything that I would not buy again.

Items Previously Sold at the Eastside Store
There is one special item I bought at the old store, though, but could not find at the new one (perhaps it was there and I missed it). This was one of the more expensive candies, but I thought it was the best.

Mella chocolate

Mella jelly in chocolate

The Mella Galaretka w Czekoladzie (jelly in chocolate) came with 16 rather small but very rich pieces of chocolate candy filled with orange flavored jelly. It reminded me of the old orange slice candy I used to enjoy when I was growing up, except that the one here has a slightly more liquid texture (like a jelly).

The Mella candies

The Mella candies

This is what the inside of the box looked like, and the 16 pieces lasted for a surprisingly long time. Even though I was taking a long time eating them in order to extend the time I could enjoy them, they stayed fresh for several months (they could not last indefinitely because they were too good not to be enjoyed).

I had never really explored the world of Polish chocolates before, but it turned out to be surprisingly worthwhile.


RATING: 23

Cuisine: Polish
Cost: $$
Hours: Closed Mon.
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: No

Most Recent Visit: Aug. 6, 2019
Number of Visits: 2
Best Items: Schnitzel, Sauerkraut, Guinness Beer Brat

Special Ratings
star 5 Art Wiener Schnitzel
star 5 Guinness Beer Brat
star 5 Pierogi
star 5 Sauerkraut
star 5 Potato Salad