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):

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

Nopalito–Las Cruces, NM

Nopalito Restaurant
310 S. Mesquite St.
Las Cruces, NM
(575) 524-0003
Nopalito on Mesquite St.

Nopalito on Mesquite St.


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

Chips and salsa

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

Red enchiladas

Some of the best red enchiladas in New Mexico

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.

Stuffed sopapilla

Stuffed sopapilla

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.

Other Dishes
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.

Other Notes
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.


RATING: 25

Cuisine: Mexican New Mexican
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes (But the restroom does not have a grab bar)
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: No

Most Recent Visit: Jul. 8, 2018
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Red Enchiladas, Salsa

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: Vegetable (Lard used in the refried beans)

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Red Enchilada
star 5 Green Enchilada
star 5 Stuffed Sopapilla
star 4 Chile Relleno
star 4 Gordita
star 5 Beans
star 5 Rice
star 4 Chips
star 5 Salsa