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El Comedor De Anayas – Moriarty, New Mexico

El Comedor de Anayas on Historic Route 66 in Moriarty

For years, one of the Land of Enchantment’s most renowned launching pads for political campaigns and careers has been Moriarty’s El Comedor De Anayas, a venue in which political power brokering has long been transacted over hot coffee and New Mexican food.  Anyone and everyone who’s aspired to political office has held court at this venerable institution which translates from Spanish to “Dining Room of the Anayas.”

Launched in 1953 (one year before Moriarty was incorporated), El Comedor has long been the home away from home for two dynastic Torrance county political powerhouse families–the Anayas and the Kings, progenitors of two governors, a state treasurer, an attorney general, a land commissioner,  state legislators, university regents and virtually every other local office of which you can conceive.

Photos of some of the political glitterati who have visited El Comedor

Framed and signed photographs of the many political glitterati to have stumped at the famous restaurant during their time on the rubber chicken circuit are on display at a wall of fame (shame or infamy, might be more apropos in some cases) just off the dining room.  The smiling countenances of Governors Toney Anaya, Bruce King, Jerry Apodaca, David Cargo, Bill Richardson, Gary Johnson and others share space with broad-toothed photographs of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton who announced his inaugural run for the presidency within the restaurant’s hallowed walls. 

Another wall is dedicated to luminaries of stage, screen and song such as Michael Martin Murphy, Charlie Pride, George Strait, Glen Campbell and Johnny Cash.  Likely because of his shyness, there is no photograph of my friend and favorite Moriarty area celebrity Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott.   Still another wall pays tribute to family members and local residents who have served in the service of their country as members of the armed forces.  No visit to El Comedor would be complete without perusing these sacrosanct walls.

Ground beef and cheese quesadilla

Founders Lauriano and Filandro Anaya were the first of four generations of Anaya family members to own and operate El Comedor de Anayas.  In 2013, the fabled restaurant changed hands, but much of the veritable photographic museum of New Mexico politics remains.  It’s what gives El Comedor its charm.  Well, that and the wagon wheel chandeliers, shelves brimming with bric-a-brac and walls festooned with burnished copper kitchen ware.

For sheer character and history, however, you can’t beat the rotosphere that lights up above the restaurant’s exterior.  Installed in the 1960s, it is very much reminiscent of the neon-spangled era of Route 66 and in fact, remains the only such rotosphere on Route 66.  When first launched, locals called it “Sputnik” while others have likened it to an old U.S. Navy mine.  In any case, it’s a vibrant, multi-hued star which beckons diners and visitors to El Comedor de Anayas.  When running, the spiked globe rotates horizontally and each hemisphere rotates around a vertical axis in opposite directions.

Beef Fajitas

As has been the case throughout its venerable tenure, the featured fare is New Mexican cuisine with a smattering of cowboy dishes (chicken fried steak), burgers and sandwiches, too.  New Mexican items are prepared sans cumin, always a good sign for hard-line traditionalists like me.  Pinto beans from local area farms are served with many items.   Dishes are reasonably priced with only a few in the vicinity of ten dollars. 

Appetizers include such New Mexico standards as chips and salsa, guacamole, quesadillas and con queso as well as spicy onion rings.  The quesadillas are rather simply adorned, essentially a large tortilla folded over melted cheese and your choice of chicken or beef.  Unless you request it, salsa isn’t standard accompaniment.  Make sure you request it.  Not only is the salsa lively and tasty, the quesadillas benefit greatly from it.

Pack’s Green Chile Enchiladas with Chicken and Sour Cream

Beef, chicken or a combination thereof fajitas are a good choice for visitors whose heat tolerance is on the ketchup level (as was the case with my mother-in-law).  Served in a sizzling skillet with grilled onions and green peppers, the beef has a terrific grilled flavor though a few gristle-laden beef strips detracted from our enjoyment.  The fajitas are served with all the “fixings:” shredded cheese, flour tortillas, sour cream and guacamole.  The guacamole is very good, much more than the personality lacking mashed avocados passed off as guacamole at some restaurants. 

Though tepid by New Mexican standards, the curiously named Pack’s Green Chile Enchiladas might be a bit too incendiary for out-of-state visitors.  This entree features three rolled enchiladas stuffed with shredded chicken, cheese and sour cream then topped with shredded cheese.  We found the cheese-sour cream amalgam somewhat gloppy, reminiscent of the melted cheese used at ballparks on nachos.  The highlight of this entree is easily the beans which are served in a hard corn shell shaped like a bowl.  The nearby Estancia Valley grows the very best frijoles (pinto beans) in the country and they’re available at El Comedor.

Carnitas

You don’t always know what to expect when ordering carnitas at New Mexican and Mexican restaurants.   We’ve had everything from fried ground beef to small ribs delivered to our table when ordering them.  At Comedor de Anayas, carnitas are cubes of pork served with a tortilla, Spanish rice and beans.  The carnitas are seasoned very well with flecks of pepper lending personality.  The Spanish rice is one of those take-or-leave items most New Mexicans see only in restaurants.

El Comedor De Anayas is on the New Mexico Culinary Treasures Trail, a celebration of restaurants which have stood the test of time–independent spots that have become beloved in their neighborhoods and beyond.

El Comedor De Anayas
1005 Old Hwy 66
Moriarty, New Mexico
(505) 832-4442
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 30 August 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Pinto Beans, Guacamole, Salsa

Comedor de Anayas on Urbanspoon

The Alley Cantina – Taos, New Mexico

The Alley Cantina just off the Plaza in Taos

In April, 2014, Gallup conducted a poll to determine state pride across the United States.  More precisely, the Gallup poll surveyed people in all 50 states to find out what percentage of residents say their state was the very best or one of the best places to live.  Sadly, New Mexico was rated the six worst state to live with only 28 percent of respondents indicating the Land of Enchantment was one of the best places to live. New Mexico was the only state among the bottom ten either not bordering or not East of the Mississippi River.

In recent years it seems every quality of life survey conducted lists New Mexico near the very bottom where we compete with Mississippi and Arkansas for “worst” in virtually every aspect of daily life.  So, what does it say about New Mexico when it is rated number one…that’s first…in the auspicious category of being “absolutely absorbed by the abnormal?”  To arrive at this rating, the Moveto Real Estate Blog actually used Facebook data to determine what percentage of each state’s population had an interest in the paranormal, psychic phenomena, conspiracy and shadow organizations and mythical creatures and mysterious beings.

The pet-friendly patio at the Alley Cantina

Research indicated that largely because of the mysterious UFO crash and subsequent cover-up in Roswell back in 1947, New Mexicans are more apt to believe in conspiracies, cover-ups and the Illuminati.  We, it seems, are also quite fascinated by cryptids (mythical creatures, mysterious beings, Chupacabra, etc) and psychic activity.  Only one state’s citizenry had a greater interest in the paranormal which one dictionary defines as “denoting events or phenomena such as telekinesis or clairvoyance that are beyond the scope of normal scientific understanding.”

Some of the state’s most active paranormal activity revolves around haunted Taos.  The aptly named The Ghosts of Taos blog believes ghosts are “as much a part of the landscape as the towering hollyhocks, dusty petunias, bancos, portals and adobe walls of Taos Plaza.”  One of the most famous of the Taos ghosts is Teresina Bent, daughter of the first governor of the newly acquired New Mexican Territory who was murdered during an uprising in Taos.  Teresina is said to haunt the Alley Cantina just north of the Taos Plaza.  Numerous sightings and incidents have been reported by both employees and guests.

Coconut Chicken Fingers with Apricot-Ginger Sauce and Celery Sticks

The Alley Cantina actually sits in the oldest building in Taos, a structure built in the 16th Century by Pueblo Indians.  The building initially served as an outpost along the Chihuahua Trail and was later occupied by the Spanish government.  In 1846, it became the office of the ill-fated Governor Bent whose family owned the building for several years.  The property became a restaurant in 1944 under the name “El Patio” and has continuously operated since then, becoming the Alley Cantina in 1997.  

In actuality, the entire building isn’t 400 years old, but large portions of the building remain from the original structure, including the south wall of the kitchen and the east wall of the kitchen and bathrooms (the tiniest bathrooms of any restaurant I’ve reviewed).   Despite the Lilliputian facilities (not enough room for you and for  Teserina Bent), the Alley Cantina is a beloved gathering place in Taos, earning several “Best of Taos County People’s Choice Awards.”  The menu is renowned for its New Mexican food (cumin alert: it’s on every item of New Mexican cuisine) as well as its barbecue and surprisingly, its fish and chips.

Green chile Cheeseburger with Fries

The Alley Cantina may also be known someday for its coconut chicken fingers served with an apricot-ginger dipping sauce and celery sticks.  The chicken fingers are somewhat thickly battered, a crispy exterior belying the moist, tender chicken inside.  While the crust has a pronounced coconut flavor, the generously plated chicken fingers (each one almost as large as the bathrooms) are elevated by the apricot-ginger dipping sauce.  It’s a sauce which should be bottled and sold.  Its personality is assertive without being overwhelming, tangy without being tart and aromatic without being perfume-like. 

Though it didn’t make the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail in 2011, the Alley’s version of the Land of Enchantment’s sacrosanct burger is well worth ordering.  The canvas for this behemoth green chile cheeseburger  is a sesame seed bun with housemade qualities (our server couldn’t tell us who made it).  The burger is constructed with a rather sizable beef patty topped with chopped green chiles blanketed by your choice of Cheddar-Jack or Provolone cheese.  It’s a very good burger even though the green chile lacked the piquancy New Mexicans crave…or perhaps the piquancy was obfuscated by the thickness of the beef patty and the other ingredients (lettuce, tomatoes, pickles).  The burger is served with hand-cut fries.

Fish and Chips

It’s rather rare to find fish and chips in New Mexico described as “famous” as the ones at the Alley are.  As has been discussed on this blog, fish and chips in New Mexico are wholly unlike fish and chips in Great Britain where they’re made best.  The Alley’s fish and chips are, in many ways, a complete antithesis of those I enjoyed by the boatful in England.  First, they’re made from Pacific cod as opposed to Atlantic caught fish.  Secondly, they’re battered (sheathed is a better descriptor) rather thickly–so much so that malt vinegar won’t penetrate until you cut through the breading and expose the succulent white flesh.  That’s when you discover a pretty tasty, light and flaky fish that is surprisingly enjoyable. 

Perhaps if Gallup had conducted its poll at the Alley Cantina, respondents would have been more inclined to show their state pride.  Enjoying good food at a fun, pet-friendly patio would do that for you.

The Alley Cantina
121 Teresina Lane
Taos, New Mexico
(575) 758-2121
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 24 August 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Fish and Chips, Green Chile Cheeseburger, Coconut Chicken Fingers

Alley Cantina on Urbanspoon

Patricia’s Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Patricia’s Cafe, serving great New Mexican food on San Mateo

For nearly twenty years–from 1954 to 1972–newspaper, magazine, radio and television advertisements for Winston cigarettes deliberated whether American smokers wanted good grammar or good taste.  This was in response to catchy jingles (and if you’re over 40, get ready for an ear worm) claiming that “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.”  Grammarians took umbrage with the solecism, arguing that the word “as” was more appropriate than the word “like.”

From 1974 to 1991 the advertising world introduced another vexing debate: “tastes great” or “less filling.”  To entice “Joe Sixpack”‘ to Lite Beer from Miller, television ads featured retired athletes, coaches and celebrities in spirited debate as to the primary benefit of the less caloric, but ostensibly still great-tasting alternative.  Using the term “light” instead of “diet” appealed to the two-fisted drinkers seeking to avoid the metamorphosis of their six-pack abs into a keg-shaped beer belly.

The interior of Patricia’s Cafe

For much longer than the advertising world has manufactured good-natured debates intended ultimately to sell a product, residents of and visitors to the Land of Enchantment have been asked to declare their preference for “red or green.”  So much so that several years ago, a state legislator submitted a resolution to declare “red or green chile” the official “state question“. On April 8, 1999, Governor Gary Johnson signed the bill making the resolution law. Less known is the fact that the New Mexico state legislature also passed a resolution approving an official state answer.  It’s no surprise that “red and green” or “Christmas” has been adopted as the official answer of the great state of New Mexico?

In New Mexico, the colors red and green have lived together in perfect harmony for centuries. While most New Mexicans have a preference, that preference is often exercised on a dish-by-dish basis.  That’s what Bob of the Village People and Noe Pacheco, two long-time friends of this blog, do.  For Bob, it’s green on chimichangas and red on stuffed sopaipillas.  Noe goes even further, declaring that not only does it depend on the dish, but on the chile itself.  To him, Chimayo’s red chile is better than anything save for Lemitar green.

Chips and Salsa

Another factor heretofore unmentioned is the restaurant itself.  There are restaurants in which servers know not to pose the “red or green” question to frequent guests.  It’s that way at Mary & Tito’s Cafe where the red chile is the very best in the universe.  Some of us who have visited  Mary & Tito’s for years don’t remember what the green chile tastes like.  We get our green chile fix at the Horseman’s Haven in Santa Fe where the chile is not only flavorful, but incendiary and not for the faint of taste bud.  

Early indications are there’s another purveyor of red chile so distinctive and flavorful, it’s what must be ordered.  In August, 2013, Andrea Lin, the luminous restaurant critic for the Albuquerque Journal declared “The first rule about ordering at Patricia’s is to order something with red chile. The second rule about ordering at Patricia’s is to order something else with red chile.”  Ty Bannerman of The Alibi concurred: “The food here is good. Especially anything with the red chile—which has both the subtle sweetness and slow burning heat that I adore.”  Urbanspoon contributors were especially enamored of the carne adovada made with red chile.

Enchilada Plate with Spanish Rice and Beans

Patricia’s Cafe is ensconced among a phalanx of niche businesses in a timeworn shopping center on San Mateo just north of Candelaria.  It’s rather obfuscated from the heavily trafficked San Mateo as it’s somewhat set back from the street and aside from its signage, bears no distinguishing exterior features.  That is unless you consider aroma a distinguishing exterior feature.  Enticing aromas are the very first thing  you notice as you approach the restaurant.  They grow even more olfactory-arousing when you enter.

Established in 2011, Patricia’s is a homey restaurant abuzz with activity during its hours of operation (7:30AM – 3:30PM Monday through Saturday).  You’ll quickly discern this is a restaurant frequented by regulars whose names and culinary preferences are known by Sheila, the whirling dervish server who’s also Patricia’s granddaughter.  Sheila has her own vernacular, using “okey smokey” as an endearing term of acknowledgement.  Patricia, who was born and raised in Socorro, visits her guests when she has a chance, but during rush times is rather busy preparing meals and keeping the kitchen running efficiently.

Stuffed Sopaipilla with Rice and Beans

Three murals on the south wall encapsulate long-established New Mexican culinary traditions very well.  One mural depicts a New Mexican maiden stringing a ristra of fiery red chile.  The second portrays another maiden rolling tortilla on her comal, the way New Mexicans have done for generations.  The third depicts a ristra of bright red chile.  Fittingly, red chile is prominent on all three murals.   

Patricia’s food is made fresh and has the homemade qualities diners appreciate.  Sopaipillas and tortillas are made the old-fashioned way, not by some inauthentic automated process.  The salsa is thick and delicious with a discernible, but not overpowering piquancy.  Alas, it’s served on a thimble-sized ramekin from which you’ll be lucky to scoop out more than four or five Gil-sized scoops.  The chips are a mix of red and yellow corn chips and tortilla chips made from tortillas.   You can ask for a second portion of salsa, but the issue of not enough salsa repeats itself.

Combination Plate

30 July 2014: With all the fanfare over Patricia’s red chile, ordering anything else was out of the question during my inaugural visit.  There may be no better canvas for red chile than an enchilada plate, two corn tortillas engorged with cheese and rolled then topped with shredded Cheddar cheese and two fried eggs over easy.  The red chile lives up to its reputation.  It’s earthy, rich and delicious with just a hint of flour used as a thickener.  It ranks about medium on the piquancy scale.  Cumin isn’t used on either the red or green chile at Patricia’s.  The enchilada plate is served with whole pinto beans and Spanish rice, both of which are quite good.

1 August 2014: The red chile so impressed itself on my taste buds that it was the focus of my second visit just two days later.  A stuffed sopaipilla plate allowed me to essentially try two dishes in one–the stuffed sopaipilla itself and the carne adovada inside.  Not every restaurant offers a carne adovada stuffed sopaipilla so when they do, it’s a great option.  The carne adovada is as good as advertised.  It’s pure porcine perfection, each tender tendril of shredded pork marinated in wonderful, rich chile.  This is some of the very best carne adovada in the Duke City.

Four sopaipillas

1 August 2014:  My friend and frequent dining companion Bill Resnik opted for the combination plate: a cheese enchilada, a tamale and a ground beef taco with beans and Spanish rice.  The ground beef tacos, which can be served on hard- or soft-shells, are terrific with freshly fried meat, shredded cheese and (thankfully) not half a salad’s worth of lettuce and tomatoes.  Good as they are, the tacos would benefit from just a bit of salsa (and as you read previously, salsa is sparse). 

Plates are served with your choice of sopaipillas (four of them) or a single tortilla.  The sopaipillas aren’t puffed-up pillows of deep pockets beckoning for honey.  They’re relatively flat with smaller pockets, but they still taste great.  Patricia’s serves real honey, not the honey-flavored syrup some restaurants serve.  The flour tortillas have the unmistakable homemade taste and appearance.  They’re perfect for creating “New Mexican spoons” in which to scoop up beans and rice. 

While it remains to be seen whether Patricia’s Cafe will duplicate Mary & Tito’s magic in serving a red chile so delicious why bother ever ordering green chile, green chile is in my future if only for the sake of comparison.

Patricia’s Cafe
3120 San Mateo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 884-4260
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 1 August 2014
1st VISIT: 30 July 2014
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 22
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Enchilada Plate, Sopaipillas, Salsa and Chips, Flour Tortillas, Soft Taco with Ground Beef, Stuffed Sopaipilla

Patricia's Cafe on Urbanspoon