"When it comes to food, I find it impossible to be monogamous."
May 13, 2013 4:04 PM   Subscribe

For the past eighteen years, Gil Garduño has been chronicling his adventures in New Mexican cuisine on his NM Gastronome blog. With over seven hundred reviews of restaurants around New Mexico, Gil's got you covered, whether you like classic New Mexican food, green chile cheeseburgers, or even other types of food that happen to be well-represented in the state. Gil is fierce in his defense of homegrown eateries over chains, saying that "word of mouth is crucial to survival and through this bully pulpit, I’ll do my best to extol the great value and virtue of supporting local restaurants." A warning, however: if you like food, and particularly New Mexican food, Gil's excellent and evocative writing about (and photography of) great dishes is likely to make you more than a little bit hungry.
posted by koeselitz (50 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
Warning not heeded. OMN NOM NOM.

Thanks for this post. I was raised in New Mexico and often have a hard time explaining to east coasters what New Mexico food is, and why they should mentally categorize it as distinct from "tex-mex."
posted by fontophilic at 4:09 PM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

I got hungry just reading the FPP, let alone the actual article!
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:10 PM on May 13, 2013

If you like green chile cheeseburgers, you should make green chile cheese meatloaf.

I just made it two weeks ago and this post is making me crave it again.
posted by fiercecupcake at 4:19 PM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yessss. Too often do I have to set aside a few minutes to explain the difference between tex-mex, sonoran and mexi-cali when compared to new mexican cuisine (it's more than adding hatch green chili, although essential) here in AZ of all places.
posted by nataaniinez at 4:19 PM on May 13, 2013

Oh man, now I'm really missing Rancho de Chimayo. Come to eat the healing dirt in the chapel, stay to eat the sopapillas and drink the healing margaritas at the Rancho de Chimayo.

A little surprised not to see Tia Sophia's listed. It's about the most authentic, local, hole-in-the wall place you're left to find in downtown Santa Fe. Popular with the local politcal bunch at breakfast, coffee and a bowl of green. It's nothing fancy, but it's awfully good.
posted by Nelson at 4:24 PM on May 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

I agree that Tia Sophia's should not be missed; it's a great place. Gil mentions them now and again, and has reviewed other restaurants in Sophia's family, but I guess he just hasn't gotten to that one yet.
posted by koeselitz at 4:29 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

To misquote Diamond Jim Brady, "I reckon I could eat a bath towel if you covered it with green chile salsa." That smoky, piquant flavor. Green chiles are the very foundation of New Mexican cuisine.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 4:31 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sante Fe: Pasqual's? Coyote Cafe? Pink Adobe? Santa Cafe?

Taos: Dr. Martins?

Nobody cares about the 80s/90s joints anymore?

Now I'm hungry too.

Portland people, be aware of Esparzas, which is more tex mex but has some NM stuff too.
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:48 PM on May 13, 2013

I didn't know about this blog, so thanks!

We are heading to Santa Fe from Las Cruces this Friday, and yesterday we debated whether we should leave at 11am, which would put us at Sparky's for lunch, or at 10am, which would get us to the Owl for lunch. Green chile cheeseburger heaven in either case.

His reviews seem spot on for the restaurants I've been to, though he's missing some good Las Cruces area meals like Nellie's and Andales. Nice to see Chope's get the respect it deserves.
posted by Killick at 4:53 PM on May 13, 2013

snuffleupagus: you're right, those are some great places. Here are a few of Gil's reviews of them: Pasqual's, Coyote Cafe, Pink Adobe. (I find googling the restaurant in quotes with Gil's site appended to the query works best for searching for specific places.)

Oh, and he also has a memorial "Gone but Not Forgotten" section for restaurants which have sadly closed. It doesn't stretch back into the 80s or 90s, but he does categorize them by when they closed: 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013. I notice in dismay that there are already four restaurants on the 2013 list; but all the more reason, I suppose, to get out there and eat that tasty comida.
posted by koeselitz at 5:01 PM on May 13, 2013

His reviews are excellent. I found a number of good small restaurants in ABQ because of Gil. He legitimately is a local treasure and every city should have someone like him.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:09 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Born and raised in Las Cruces, NM here.
I'm a huge foodie, but I don't know, I never really cared for New Mexican food that much. Growing up, I always just thought of it as "Mexican" food and never got what the big deal was; the flavors tend to be kind of earthy and samey, and a lot of restaurants put way too much melted cheese on everything. It wasn't until college that I had a Mexico-style al pastor taco from a taco truck and it was a mindblowing experience - all the bold flavors of fresh lime, spicy fresh salsa, tangy pineapple combining at once - it was like no New Mexican food I'd ever had. New Mexican restaurants tend to make pretty boring tacos; most places (incl. Nopalitos mentioned on that site) even use crispy shells, and basically just fill it with some sauteed ground beef and top it with some grated cheese.

I think the most emblematic New Mexico dish is the chile relleno. I used to eat a beans and chile relleno burrito for lunch almost every day in college, for $2.25 - imagine buying a burrito for that price in New York!

As far as green chile goes, it feels like expatriate New Mexicans need to profess this deep love for Hatch green chiles and get packages of it sent from home every month. It's good, sure, and I'll always take green over red enchiladas, but I don't really miss it too much. Now as far as green vs. red is concerned, I've never liked red enchiladas. I remember our eighth grade English teacher conducted a class debate on the merits of red vs. green chile. Green won, obviously, though it was amazing how divided that debate was by gender. I must have been one of the only boys defending green chile.

Now does anyone here remember the Whole Enchilada Fiesta? Las Cruces used to hold the world record for largest enchilada, though I believe the title was recently usurped by a Mexican city.
posted by pravit at 5:10 PM on May 13, 2013

And while I'm taking a trip down Memory Lane. Does anyone remember "Spanish Disco Dancing" in Deming, NM? If you've ever driven through that town - not even stopped, just driven - you'll know what I'm talking about. Though sadly, I heard it was removed some years ago...
posted by pravit at 5:17 PM on May 13, 2013

"New Mexican restaurants tend to make pretty boring tacos..."

Tacos are not remotely traditional New Mexican food. They show up on menus because, well, tacos and it's the US. But I've never eaten a taco in a New Mexican restaurant in my life. It wouldn't occur to me.

Despite the fact that the chile is all grown down south, I've never much associated New Mexican food with anywhere south of, say, Belen or east of Santa Rosa. While there's a whole lot of overlap, there is a hispanic cultural difference between north and south and it's the north that is the heart of New Mexican culture. The south is more influenced by Texan and immigrant culture. New Mexican culture and cuisine is centered in the Spanish Land Grant country.

All of which has a lot to do with things mentioned in fontophilic's and nataaniinez's comments — New Mexican cuisine is distinct because it's the native cuisine of a four hundred year old culture that's been there this whole time and was one of the most remote provinces of colonial Spain. It's distinct from California/Arizona and Texas in that a much larger portion of hispanics were pushed out of the latter and were eventually (until recently) greatly outnumbered in the former, much altering the local cultures in those regions. Meanwhile, in rural villages in northern New Mexico people lived much as they'd always lived well into the last part of the twentieth century. New Mexico is more like Quebec or cajun Louisiana or Puerto Rico (though, to be sure, not that much like Quebec or Puerto Rico, which are far more culturally distinct) than it is like Texas or California. Likewise, the cuisine.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:34 PM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Gil Garduño (no relation), for those of us familiar with the, er, more ballistic charms of the eponymous eatery.

As per this post.
posted by scrump at 5:44 PM on May 13, 2013

I say this in the kindest possible sense: Las Cruces is almost in Texas.

When I was maybe 12? Someone told me that down south, red was generally hotter than green. I still can't articulate why, but that is deeply wrong to me on some level.

I think I might claim the epitome of New Mexican food is the stuffed sopapilla.

Is Mr Gardu/~no related to the restaurant?
posted by PMdixon at 5:45 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think the most emblematic New Mexico dish is the chile relleno.

Arguably a bowl of green chile is the emblematic dish. But that's honestly a bit dull. I'm going to say carne adovada. It's just so elemental, such amazingly earthy food. With the right red chile and a slow hand on the cooking it can be a really delicious, fundamental food. It can also burn your head off depending on the chile. Best I ever had was at Maria's in Santa Fe, but I wouldn't count myself an expert on that.

I live in San Francisco now and while most Cal-Mex is pretty bland, I do love a Mission style burrito. I've yet to make it over to Cole Valley for Green Chile Kitchen, but the menu sure looks promising.

Sometimes I get the weirdest craving for the Navajo Tacos I used to get at various Indian art fairs or up in Teec Nos Pos. I'm not quite sure what the heritage of fry bread is or how it relates to sopapillas, but fill 'em up with some beans and a bit of chile and you won't be hungry for the rest of the day.
posted by Nelson at 5:55 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

(PMdixon: there's a little disclaimer at the end of the review scrump linked to above that says that there's no relation that he knows of.)
posted by koeselitz at 6:01 PM on May 13, 2013

Wait, only ONE restaurant review for Las Cruces? And not even a particularly outstanding one? And only one for Mesilla, and that restaurant is all atmosphere and crappy food?

Fucking northern NMers.

At least he reviewed Chopé's in La Mesa, which does the most amazing green chile stew ever. A giant bowl that is basically green chile, beef, and onions (none of that frou-frou corn and crap they put in it up in Santa Fe), served with a GIANT stack of flour tortillas and copious amounts of butter.

The way you eat that is, roll a tortilla into a tight roll, smear some butter on the end of the roll, bite that off, and take in a spoon of the stew and then chew all that up together. Continue eating like this without stopping until ALL your stew is gone. As you eat, your face will flush, then your forehead will sweat, then you'll feel sweat dripping down the back of your scalp, and your sinuses will clear and your ears will drain. If you STOP eating, the heat will build in your mouth and you won't be able to start eating again.

It's almost literally a psychedelic level of green chile heat. The amount of endorphins released by eating that bowl of chile makes the world feel like it's in sharper focus and makes your body hum for hours.

And really, the "most emblematic New Mexico dish" would have to be the flat stacked enchiladas with a fried egg on top.

Damn I miss the food of my home area.... Thank goodness I'm going to be there in Oct. I'll have 3.5 days to eat as much as I can.
posted by hippybear at 6:28 PM on May 13, 2013 [8 favorites]

posted by methinks at 6:30 PM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

hippybear - there's only one restaurant reviewed for Gallup (Jerry's, a very meh restaurant), which is sad because I think Genaro's is the ultimate in newmex cuisine. It's missing a lot of towns along major interstates the more I read this blog, to the point where I am beginning to feel ya on the "fucking northern NMers" statement.
posted by nataaniinez at 6:37 PM on May 13, 2013

Oh, Albuquerque, I miss your food so much. Not only do you have amazing New Mexican food, but every breakfast burrito with green chile I ate the six years I lived in you was fantastic. [1] Unfairly, you also have amazing Vietnamese food. I miss a lot about living there, but that's what I miss the most. Denver has much better upscale food, but Coloradans can't make green chile worth a shit [2], and there's not as many amazing cheap restaurants in really crappy strip malls as there is in ABQ.

[1] Except for the breakfast burritos at the Flying Star, which contain unwieldy, chunky potatoes.

[2] Except for Santiago's, which would be even better if there was a location I would walk to.
posted by heurtebise at 6:51 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

The south is more influenced by Texan and immigrant culture.

Las Cruces is almost in Texas.

So I was a Texan the entire time? Explains a lot of things... guy offers his honest opinion on New Mexican food and next thing you know Hatch chile, the 2nd largest enchilada in the world, the Chile Pepper Institute, and quite possibly the only American town named after a 1950s gameshow come from Greater Texas...

Tacos are not remotely traditional New Mexican food. They show up on menus because, well, tacos and it's the US. But I've never eaten a taco in a New Mexican restaurant in my life. It wouldn't occur to me.

Well sir, in my own defense, you get a taco if you order a combination plate at Nopalito's on Missouri Ave, along with a taquito, chile con carne, refried beans, rice, and an enchilada of your chosen color. But I guess combination plates are another sneaky Texan import that no true New Mexican would be seen ordering... for what it's worth I have eaten NM food up north and it hasn't appealed to me much either. Do green chile hamburgers count as traditional New Mexican food, or does the Texan diaspora get to claim those as our own too?

Fucking northern NMers.
This! I've always associated everything north of Belen with Colorado, really...
posted by pravit at 7:07 PM on May 13, 2013

El Paso is secretly part of New Mexico.
posted by Nelson at 7:11 PM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, southern NM food is not related to Tex-Mex at all.

It's its own microculture for cuisine. There's no food like southern NM food anywhere.

ESPECIALLY not in Texas.
posted by hippybear at 7:11 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

So here is the thing about green chile [ham/cheese]burgers:

1) They are awesome.

2) But they are also about the most obvious thing it would occur to anyone in American food culture to do with green chile. So I dunno that really anyone in particular gets 'credit' for them, per se, y'know?
posted by PMdixon at 7:30 PM on May 13, 2013

One can get green chile in many, many places; it's really good. When I'm sick...it's my go-to.

Red chile is about trust. Good red chile is complex and evocative. Bad red chile makes you rail against an unjust god and wonder if the lining of your stomach just came out of your colon.

I'll try the green just about anywhere. But red chile..... I gotta know way more about who is making the red, and how they're doing it. It needs to be somebody's grandma...or their grandma's recipe. Pods or powder? Garlic? Oregano? Pork or manteca? Do they cook it long enough, or do they rush it, and leave you open to the "ring of fire?"
posted by answergrape at 7:43 PM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Gil's website is basically my go-to site when I can't decide where to go for dinner. He helped me discover Torino's recently and that place is amazing. I am largely only food-cool because I read that site.
posted by NoraReed at 7:44 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Do green chile hamburgers count as traditional New Mexican food..."

That's not a serious question is it? In case it is: no.

"It's its own microculture for cuisine."

I can go with that. I didn't intend to imply at all that S. NM cuisine is Tex-Mex. But it's not quite traditional New Mexican cuisine, either.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:18 PM on May 13, 2013

Of course not. It's much much better.
posted by hippybear at 8:29 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

BTW, if you're jonesing to have green chile to use in your own kitchen, I highly recommend ordering from Berridge Farms. They express mail you chiles at harvest time, they get from the field to your door in something like 48 hours, and then you can roast and freeze them in recipe-size portions to pull out and use the rest of the year.

(Of course, don't forget to save the largest and most beautiful of your shipment to make rellenos... Shit, now my mouth is watering.)
posted by hippybear at 8:36 PM on May 13, 2013

Oh, Gil's site helped me so much when I moved to Albuquerque and I still go back. Awesome post! (green4eva)
posted by dual_action at 8:39 PM on May 13, 2013

Oh, crap. A link: Berridge Farms.
posted by hippybear at 8:39 PM on May 13, 2013

Best I ever had was at Maria's in Santa Fe, but I wouldn't count myself an expert on that.

Maria's carne adovada... I miss New Mexico so much right now.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:55 PM on May 13, 2013

I lived in Alamogordo from 1972-1978, and in Albuquerque for 2 years after that. During that time, I visited a lot of the other cities and towns in New Mexico. My mother still lives there and I've visited her many times. Not once, ever, in all those years, did anyone ever ask me if I wanted "red or green."
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:57 PM on May 13, 2013

That seems impossible, MexicanYenta.
posted by hippybear at 9:00 PM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Gil? Gil Chesterton? Glad to see the food critic is back!
posted by Carillon at 9:15 PM on May 13, 2013

What were you ordering, MexicanYenta? That question usually comes with stuff like enchiladas, burritos that come slathered in chile, stuff like that. If you were ordering stuff like un-slathered burritos, tacos, or anything that by default comes with a certain kind of chile (like carne adovada or green chile cheeseburgers) or stuff that is spicy but doesn't have a chile sauce (like fajitas), you won't get asked that question. I don't get it very much, because I tend to like chile sauce a lot less than I like stuff that has chile in it (like a breakfast burrito, or good roasted green chile on a pizza, or carne adovada) but not on it, but both my partner and my dad tend to get stuff that has the sauce on it. (My partner is an enchilada addict; my dad just loves the red chile sauce that you get at Mary and Tito's.)
posted by NoraReed at 9:35 PM on May 13, 2013

I like green. I friggin love red. I have to hit up Hatch every year; still have a fair bit of both left, so I need to get crackin' on making chile dishes. Making red chile from the pods is easy, but people look at me like I've performed some sort of wizardry. Look, people, those ristras are for eating, not for decoration.

I love New Mexican food. Sitting on the Plaza with some adobada... damn you guys, I just ate and now I'm hungry again. Or you can get some junk food in the form of Frito Pie from El Camino Real in Socorro.
posted by azpenguin at 10:09 PM on May 13, 2013

Or you can get some junk food in the form of Frito Pie from El Camino Real in Socorro.

I'm still mourning the loss of the Coyote Moon Cafe in Lemitar.

Best. Breakfast. Burrito. EVAR.
posted by hippybear at 10:14 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Those burgers at the Buckhorn are great, and if you're lucky while you're there the owner will come over and sit at your table and make fun of your wife for being vegetarian, then give her free dessert when he realizes that she's six months pregnant.
posted by saladin at 4:33 AM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've relied on Gil's reviews for years. His site is by far the most authoritative and comprehensive resource for Albuquerque dining, and he's quite a personality in his own right. It probably should be called ABQgastronome, though, since it is basically an Albuquerque-based site, but if you won't find a more thorough overview of the restaurant scene in town.

And to echo NoraReed, Torino's really is pretty amazing and I feel fortunate to know about it (thanks to Gil). Northern Italian with a French twist, by a supremely talented chef. I understand Torino's is struggling to stay afloat, which is a shame. It would be tragic to lose them. Torino's is beloved among ABQ foodies, and I think it lives up to its reputation. I have not had better meals in Albuquerque.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 8:17 AM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'd love to go to New Mexico just to eat. Because really, what other reason is there to go?

I keed! I keed!
posted by slogger at 9:46 AM on May 14, 2013

I have loved Gil's site for years. A foodie friend of mine introduced me to the site.

My favorite local place is Ortega's. It's not reviewed at Gil's, but It's just great. I love the 70's decor, which I always associate with the best local New Mexican food. Also, during chile season, they have the most amazing red chile rellenos, and the red sauce is so good when it's made fresh then also. That happens during the balloon fiesta, so I always take visitors there. Mmmm! I consider their sopapillas to be the best in town. I really love small local restaurants, though.
posted by annsunny at 11:20 AM on May 14, 2013

We have found a place to eat, Yummy!
posted by onemelonicecream at 11:39 AM on May 14, 2013

Thanks for posting!

I haven't lived in Albuquerque for quite a while, but looks like there is all kinds of good new stuff to check out next time I'm there.
posted by forkisbetter at 11:45 AM on May 14, 2013

This is the archetypical New Mexican food plate in my opinion. Rice, refried beans, various foods, and a bunch of melted cheese glopped over everything. Served on a blue plate.

El Paso is secretly part of New Mexico.
I've always felt El Paso is more New Mexican than Las Cruces is Texan, for sure.
posted by pravit at 4:42 PM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm game!
posted by annsunny at 10:06 AM on May 16, 2013

I grew up in northern NM. My family used to eat at Tomasita's in the 70's (before Santa Fe was discovered by Hollywood). I would always get the bean burrito smothered in green chile, and always eaten alongside a sopaipilla with honey to kill the burn. We used to get a whole Pink Adobe apple pie from Kaune's for Christmas. Warmed up and topped with hard sauce - I've tasted few better things in my life. I don't think the food in southern NM measures up at all to the restaurants in northern NM (and I've lived in southern NM now for longer than I lived up north). It's all just mush to me. On the other hand, El Paso has some pretty good restaurants - Taco Tote, anyone?
posted by jenh526 at 6:39 PM on May 16, 2013

OK, so we need a meetup schedule to visit restaurants. The amount I am joking approaches Zero. We should start with Torino's because there's no earthly reason that place should be struggling.

OK, when should we go?
posted by filthy light thief at 11:21 AM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

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