Nellie’s Cafe–Las Cruces, NM

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

Nellie’s


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). They no longer have dinner hours, and now close at 3:00 p.m.  While not a change from the old days, they are also closed from Christmas until about the third week in January, and again for a vacation in the summer. I either read or was told that this is the way they have been able to keep this family owned business alive for so long without facing burnout and having to close.

Nellie’s has always been my idea of what southern New Mexican style food should be. The red chile has always been my favorite here, but others have told me the green chile is best. This is the restaurant where I developed a great love for the sopapilla compuesta, and this is my favorite dish here. Really, though, everything is good (a friend of mine tells me they have the best huevos rancheros ever).

I believe there are several candidates in New Mexico for the best red chile, and Nellie’s is certainly one of them. What I especially like about Nellie’s, though, is that the heat level is not extremely high but the flavor of the chile is as good as the hotter varieties.

Sopapilla Compuesta

Sopapilla compuesta

Sopapilla compuesta with red and green sauce

The Sopapilla Compuesta is my favorite dish, and I am very glad I can go back and get the same dish I have enjoyed over the years. This dish is related to the stuffed sopapilla, but the beans, meat, lettuce, cheese, and tomato are put on top of the sopapilla, along with your preference of chile (red or green). Over the years I have enjoyed the meatless version as much as the one with meat. Either way, I think it is best with the red sauce. The one pictured above was “Christmas” (with both red and green sauce).

These photos are of regular orders, but you can also get a smaller one. Both are relatively inexpensive.

Sopapilla compuesta with red sauce

Sopapilla compuesta with red sauce

The Sopapilla Compuesta with Red Sauce pictured above had less sauce overall than the one with both red and green sauce, but seemingly had more sopapilla. I also thought it had more meat than the other version (the meat is the same that I typically find in New Mexican style stew).

There is a good view of the kitchen from the dining room/cash register area, and it is apparent how each dish is individually prepared and that there is no assembly line production here. I think the chile is made in large batches, but the way the rest of the food is prepared makes it almost inevitable that sometimes an order will have more meat, sopapilla, sauce, etc. than at other times, and that the way it is cooked will not be exactly the same. On the two orders shown for sopapilla compuesta, one had a crispier sopapilla than the other (so that I needed a knife to cut it). I cannot say, though, that there was any difference in the overall enjoyment of the dishes.

One big difference I see between the sopapilla compuestas served here and the stuffed sopapillas I have found in northern New Mexico is the size. These are a meal in themselves, while stuffed sopaillas are usually the size of a regular sopapilla but with meat, beans, cheese, and/or lettuce and tomato stuffed inside.

For both of these New Mexico dishes the sopapilla is a little sweet, but is more like bread than the dessert sopapillas served in Oklahoma and other places (most sopapillas in other places are also covered with sugar or cinnamon while these are not).

In any case, I am almost always surprised when I eat Nellie’s version how well the flavors of the sopapilla, beans, chile, cheese, lettuce, and tomato come together for such a flavorful combination. On the meat, I can take it or leave it, but I usually take it. The red chile is really what makes this much better than others I have tried. The green chile is also quite good, but the red is my favorite.

I noticed on their menu that they rate the green chile as having a four-chile spice level, while the red is two. On my own “chile scale” I rate the red chile as being four out of five, and equivalent to most of the red chile served in El Paso. I think the green chile is a little hotter, but certainly not twice as hot as the red (and I am not sure that Nellie’s meant to imply that it was).

Red Enchiladas

Red enchiladas rolled instead of stacked

Regular (rolled) red enchiladas with an egg on top and sour cream

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 I would put the ones in northern New Mexico. The chile, though, is probably as good as you will find anywhere (my preference is the red, but both are good).

The default here is that they serve rolled enchiladas. You can ask for them to be stacked but I tend to forget because of the normal long periods of time between my visits here. Theoretically both should taste the same, but I do not think this is the case. I would say that the stacked ones tend to have more chile (because the cooks try to cover the top of the enchiladas completely) while the rolled ones have more cheese (this is put on the inside of rolled ones while stacked ones only have cheese on top). It is a little depressing that these are the types of questions I ponder, but hopefully it will brighten someone’s day by knowing which type of enchilada to order.

The egg here is mostly for flavor because I do not think the red chile is spicy enough that you would need the egg for its mouth soothing properties. You can also get sour cream with the enchiladas if you desire.

I should note that the Beans seem to have the perfect texture and lack the greasiness I find in many restaurants. I think this is a reason they go so well on items such as the sopapilla compuesta, or as a side on dishes such as the enchiladas.

Salsa

They don't give many chips, but you can get more if you ask

Chips and salsa

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.

Nellie’s also sells its red and green chile in take-home containers. I found out that they call all of these “salsa,” with the red chile being salsa roja, the green being salsa verde, and the salsa served with chips being salsa regular. This shed some light, though, on the fact that there is some confusion between the term chile (which I and others tend to use) and salsa (which is the term most restaurants in El Paso and Las Cruces tend to use).

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.

This may be one of the top New Mexican restaurants in the state (it is definitely one of the best out of the ones I have tried). The enchiladas are very good, but it is really the sopapilla compuesta that I think makes it stand out from other restaurants, and which may actually be the best in the state.

Keeping the same food and the same traditions they had in the 1970’s when I first tried it is what makes it great, but there are some things to consider which some may see as drawbacks to eating here:

  • The hours are limited (they have had to do this for the family to keep running it all these years). It closes at 3:00 p.m., and they are closed twice a year for vacation (at Christmas through the first part of January and for about two weeks in the first part of August). If you make it there before 3:00 on a day they are open you are fine–they are not in a hurry to kick people out of the restaurant after this time. If you plan to go near Christmas and New Year or during the summer it is probably a good idea to call and find out if they will be open.
  • The enchiladas are rolled instead of stacked (probably most people want it this way). Having relatives in northern New Mexico and having most of my early New Mexican food experiences there, I like them stacked. Many times I forget that Nellie’s does not serve them stacked unless you ask for them that way. I am making a note here to remind myself (and others) to ask for them stacked.
  • (This point is more for others than myself) I have been rather surprised by the time it takes to eat here when they are busy. Usually the wait for a table does not take too long, but waiting for orders to be taken can seem like a long time when they are trying to serve a full house. Many people will also experience what seems to be a long time for the food to be cooked. I am not very concerned about this because I know that everything is individually prepared, but I just think that readers should be aware of it.

Nellie’s is cash only (they have an ATM machine if you need it). I think the prices are pretty decent, and this is probably a result of their “cash only” policy.

Update Aug. 2019: Nellie’s is closed from Sunday August 4 until Friday August 16 this year (as reported by Yelp). This gives a general indication of when they take their summer vacation each year.


RATING: 26

Cuisine: Mexican New Mexican
Cost: $$
Hours: Open 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. (closed Sun. & Mon.)
Smoking: No smoking
Special Features: Serves breakfast

Most Recent Visit: May 24, 2019
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Sopapilla Compuesta, Red Enchiladas, Beans, Salsa

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Special Ratings
star 5 Red Enchiladas
star 5 Green Enchiladas
star 5 Sopapilla Compuesta
star 5 Chips
star 5 Salsa

A Bite of Belgium–Las Cruces, NM

A Bite of Belgium
741 N. Alameda Blvd.
Las Cruces, NM
(575) 527-2483
A Bite of Belgium

A Bite of Belgium


When my dad and uncle were growing up, Belgium was referred to simply as “the old country,” with their grand-maman trying in vain to pass along a working knowledge of the French language to the grand-kids. Another item that seemingly did not get passed on was any tradition of Belgian food in the family. This has led me on somewhat of a quest to find anything that might be a true representation of food from the “old country.”

A Bite of Belgium was my first successful attempt at getting an actual Belgian meal as opposed to novelty items such as chocolate candy or waffles that were Belgian in name only. I will have to say the restaurant was quite impressive, and a large crowd in both the dining room and outdoor patio seemed to agree. The restaurant has a large breakfast and sandwich menu, which has actually expanded since I first dropped in to pick up a menu in 2017.

One thing I like about the breakfasts is that they are not oversized, and the restaurant believes you might actually want to eat lunch somewhere and have enough appetite to enjoy it. The sandwiches I saw at other tables were fairly substantial and appeared to make a good lunch.

Waffles

Waffles with bacon

Waffles with bacon and vanilla cream cheese

The menu now includes more waffle choices than it did in 2017, and I could see that this was the area I would probably want to explore the most. I have had “Belgian waffles” at other restaurants, but the ones here were obviously the real thing and opened up what seemed to me like a whole new world in waffle enjoyment.

A Bite of Belgium serves Liège style waffles, and to me the waffle itself was the best part of the meal. The Waffles, Bacon, and Cream breakfast serves the waffles with two bacon strips and vanilla cream cheese for a very nice combination of flavors (in addition to fruit and powdered sugar on the plate). The cream cheese turned out to be a little too sweet for the type of breakfast I like, but the good thing here is that you can order the waffles in a variety of ways, including plain with just the powdered sugar. I really enjoyed the waffle and will definitely want to come back for these again.

The bacon was excellent as well–they have a very good quality bacon here.

 

Desserts
This restaurant has pastries to eat here or for take-home orders as they do at Le Rendez-vous, but the selection at A Bite of Belgium seems small. I have not tried any of the pastries and cannot comment on them. What I can say, though, is that Le Rendez-vous would probably be the place most people would want to go if their primary concern is finding a large selection of items.

Other Comments
For much of my life I have wanted European food to be considered as “normal” in the United States, and for this style of restaurant to be popular places where people would eat all the time. This seems to be the case with A Bite of Belgium–the place was packed and people were obviously enjoying the food (most people were eating sandwiches at the time I went).

A Bite of Belgium is more expensive than the diner or fast food options around town (you can see the prices from the menu I have included). The portions are good, and I do not think many people will complain that they did not get enough food (although these are not the huge portions that some breakfast and lunch restaurants serve).

It is very encouraging that there were very few tables available at A Bite of Belgium. Perhaps this means that in the future it will be easier for other Belgian restaurants to open around the country than it has been up to this point. I do think, though, that restaurants with good quality (such as this one) will do well no matter what type of cuisine they serve.


RATING: 24

Cuisine: Belgian
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily 7:00 am to 2:00 pm; Dinner Wed.-Sun. (5pm-9pm)
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Beer, Wine

Most Recent Visit: Mar. 22, 2018
Number of Visits: 1
Best Items: Waffles, Bacon

Special Ratings
star 5 Waffles, Bacon, & Vanilla Cream

 

Menu (Mar. 2018):

 

La Posta–Mesilla, NM

La Posta de Mesilla
2410 Calle de San Albino
Mesilla, NM
(575) 524-3524
La Posta

La Posta


La Posta was founded in 1939, and has been a popular tourist destination ever since. Across from the Mesilla Plaza, the historic building in which it is located is quite interesting (and I recommend a visit to the building whether or not you eat at the restaurant). While inside you can visit the gift shop, see the indoor patio with plants and birds, or simply wander around the building.

La Posta represents a milestone to me, being my first experience with New Mexican food in the southern part of the state. At that time it had authentic spicy New Mexican food, and was almost too hot for me to eat. Since that time, though, my taste buds have become much more accustomed to New Mexico chile, but I also think La Posta has had a substantial decline in its chile heat index. Even those who have never tried New Mexican cuisine before can probably feel safe that the food at La Posta will not be too spicy, but that the flavors found in this type of Mexican food can still be experienced.

The entrance

The entrance

Mrs. Josephine Griggs came from a pioneer Mesilla family, and her daughter Katherine used Mrs. Griggs’ recipes when opening La Posta (other Griggs children founded Griggs Restaurant in El Paso and El Pinto in Albuquerque). The Griggs family recipes include a large number of authentic, delicious New Mexico style dishes, but the various restaurants have had their own way of interpreting the food. I think Peppe’s Restaurant in El Paso (using the Griggs Restaurant recipes) may be the truest to the original cooking style, using local chiles and providing fairly spicy New Mexican food. El Pinto has toned down the food a bit, and as a result has become somewhat of a tourist destination for people who are not that crazy about the hotter varieties of New Mexico chile. La Posta, however, has gone the farthest of the three restaurants in making the food more “touristy” to the way they figure people from outside New Mexico would like it. Judging from the crowds, people do seem to like La Posta.

Gift shop

Gift shop

As you enter the building there are some shops, including the La Posta Chile Shop where they sell gifts, bottles of La Posta’s salsa, and as of 2015 there is a cookbook with the restaurant’s recipes. Also here is the Matteo Jewelry Store.

The waiting area at Christmas

The waiting area at Christmas

In the area where a receptionist will greet you is a large indoor patio with fountains, live birds, and indoor plants which provide a pleasant atmosphere if you have to wait for a table. The area is also festively decorated for any approaching holidays.

The waiting area t Cinco de Mayo

The waiting area at Cinco de Mayo

The Food

Food being served

Plates of food are just about to reach a large group of hungry patrons

I am impressed that the Chiles Rellenos do not have sauce on top, so diners can get a glimpse of what the New Mexico style relleno should be. However, the egg batter does not seem to be as flavorful as I think it could be, and as I have experienced in other Las Cruces area restaurants. The chile has almost no discernible heat, but being in the heart of chile growing country assures that La Posta will offer fresh and flavorful chiles.

The highlight of the restaurant may be the Green Enchilada (this was also my favorite dish at Griggs Restaurant in El Paso). Abuelita Griggs’ recipe comes through fairly well here, and it does have a little bit of spice. The heat level does not even approach that which is typically known as “New Mexico green chile,” such as is served in Chope’s or Nellie’s. Nevertheless, green chile enchiladas are authentic New Mexican in terms of flavor.

I have not tried the Sopapillas lately, but the ones I saw come out of the kitchen were large and fluffy as they should be. This is something I always remember as one of the special treats at La Posta.

Flan and guacamole

Flan and guacamole spotted in the kitchen

I also like the fact that La Posta uses vegetable oil for all the cooking, including the refried beans (but I don’t know why they don’t serve whole pinto beans instead of refried).

Chips and salsa are one of the better parts of the meal, and I do like the salsa they sell in the gift shop.

Summing It Up
To my own taste, other restaurants in the Las Cruces area serve more satisfying New Mexican food. At La Posta I almost have to rely on the traditionally non-spicy foods, such as the guacamole and sopapillas. I do think, though, that the green enchiladas, with a semi-spicy chile, are probably La Posta’s best dish. What I would suggest ordering is a combination plate with as many different flavors as possible.

The kitchen

The kitchen

No restaurant in or near Las Cruces can match La Posta’s beautiful old building, charm, or historic setting. Stop by for drinks, dessert, a snack, looking in the gift shop, or just seeing the historic building, even if you do not want to order a meal here. I think it will be worth it.

View of La Posta from the Plaza

View of La Posta from the Plaza

The town of Mesilla is a well known tourist attraction, and is one which I find very interesting and worthwhile visiting. Most of the restaurants and shops are located on the Plaza, where there is free parking either on the Plaza or not far away. The shops include some that sell local food specialties, such as pecans at the Mesilla Valley Store.


RATING: 18

Cuisine: Mexican New Mexican
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Beer, wine, drinks

Most Recent Visit: Apr. 6, 2005
Number of Visits: 7
Best Items: Green Enchiladas, Sopapillas

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 3
Cooking Oil: Vegetable
Special Ratings
star 4 Green Enchiladas
star 2 Chile Relleno (No sauce on top)
star 2 Beans
star 2 Rice
star 3 Chips
star 3 Salsa
star 5 Sopapillas