Las Ristras Restaurant – Corrales, New Mexico

Las Ristras Restaurant in Corrales

Based on interviews conducted with Hollywood luminaries who’ve starred in movies or television shows shot in New Mexico, you might think our state either doesn’t have a symbol of hospitality or that symbol is something as poorly representative of the Land of Enchantment as crack (Josh Brolin), tire stores (Jonathan Banks), shirtless drivers (Seth McFarlane), Walmart (Jessica Alba) or loudness (Tommy Lee Jones).   With all the tax breaks and enticements afforded film production companies, shouldn’t its most visible beneficiaries at least have something nice to say about New Mexico?

While New Mexico doesn’t have an official (as in legislatively decreed) symbol of hospitality, most of us recognize a ristra hanging on a doorway as an invitation to visitors, ergo a symbol of hospitality.  It’s as much a symbol of hospitality as the pineapple is in Hawaii and the fleur de lis is in Louisiana.  Moreover, the ristra has come to represent the state of New Mexico, maybe not quite as much as the Zia sun, but to a large extent.

The capacious Las Ristras Restaurant dining room

In Spanish, “ristra” actually means string.  “Chile ristra” then translates into “a string of chiles.”   While the chile ristra has utilitarian roots (chiles being strung together by their stems and hung on walls to dry in the sun), it’s possible decorative ristras fashioned from ceramic, fabric, plastic, and plaster mold are almost as common as actual chile ristras.  Traditionalists appreciate the decorative qualities of the chile ristra, but ultimately will use them as they’ve been used for generations–for cooking and eating.

Because of the esteem with which the chile ristra is held throughout New Mexico, the expectations for a restaurant calling itself Las Ristras are high.  That name brings with it the promise of hospitality and good food showcasing chile.   Las Ristras opened its doors in August, 2015 at the site which scant weeks earlier was home to The Spot.  The restaurant is the brainchild of Corrales resident Ginger Hunter, a fourth generation Corralenia who in 2015 was awarded a Civic Recognition Award in recognition of “acts of compassion and kindness.”  Doesn’t that just bode of hospitality?

Green Chile Meatloaf

Las Ristras is a rather capacious restaurant with good spacing between tables.  With upscale touches, it bears little resemblance to other New Mexican restaurants, but its soundtrack is true Northern New Mexico.  That means the Purple Haze (Felix and Milford Salazar), Sparx and other Norteño favorites.  My friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate gives it the “McGoldrick stamp of approval: “What I like about Las Ristras is that it is not a clone of the many dozens of cookie-cutter NM restaurants. The food is homemade and I feel like I’m eating (and conversing) in Ginger’s kitchen. This is simple food lovingly prepared.” 

As always, Larry’s assessment is spot-on.  From the ambiance on down to the menu and service, this is not your stereotypical New Mexican restaurant (if there is such a thing).  The menu, for example, offers such heretofore unseen appetizers as cheese sticks with red chile marinara and an Indian enchilada.  Entrees include many New Mexican standards such as tamales, chiles rellenos, carne adovada and tacos, but you’ll also find “from the grill selections” such as a 14-ounce ribeye with green chile cream sauce, red chile ribs and green chile meatloaf.  Entrees in which ground beef is used are seasoned with cumin.

Chiles Rellenos with Papitas

The green chile meatloaf is deeply infused with plenty of pleasantly piquant green chile.  It’s also topped generously with a green chile sauce that runs over the sides.  Alas, it’s served on a sizzling cast iron plate (the type often used for fajitas) which has a desiccating effect on what might otherwise have been a moist and juicy meatloaf.  Grilled entrees are served with your choice of two sides: mashed potatoes, daily vegetable or wild rice.  In the spirit of hospitality, your server will bring you papitas instead of mashed potatoes if you so desire. Desire it! These papitas are killer. 

If more traditional New Mexican entrees are more your speed, both Larry and my Kim will vouch for the chiles rellenos.  Perhaps because of the lateness of the chile season, one of the two rellenos on the plate was a roasted red chile which has a wholly different flavor profile than roasted green.  Roasted red chile tends to be a bit sweeter with a more earthy depth of flavor.  The cheese with which the rellenos are stuffed seems to retain molten qualities longer than the cheese used on other rellenos (where the cheese become stringy).  in any case, these are very good rellenos with a crispy, flavorful crust sheathing the chiles.

Sopaipilla Delight with Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

You won’t find your abuelita’s desserts on the menu, but you will find avant-garde versions of desserts you thought you knew.  Instead of the de rigueur New Mexico dessert offering of sopaipillas with honey, Las Ristras offers a “Sopaipilla Delight,” a flattened sopaipilla drizzled with honey and topped with your favorite flavor of ice cream (provided it’s vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, cookies and cream or mint-chocolate chip) and chocolate sauce.  There’s a lot going on with this dessert and it’s all good. 

More traditional is a bowl of ice cream (your favorite flavor) flanked by four biscochitos.  It’s a surprisingly good combination best eaten as a combination instead of serially.  The biscochitos are redolent with cinnamon and anise, as hospitable a pairing as you’ll find on any cookie.  They’re crisp. flaky and light with the memorable qualities for which the biscochito was named New Mexico’s official state cookie.

Biscochitos with vanilla ice cream

Perhaps if the over-indulged ingenues who make great sport of besmirching the Land of Enchantment visited Las Ristras in Corrales and experienced true New Mexico hospitality, they’d think twice about bad-mouthing our state.  You can’t bad-mouth something when your mouth is so full of good things.

Los Ristras Restaurant
4940 Corrales Road, N.E., Suite 400
Corrales, New Mexico
(505) 433-4192
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 19 September 2015
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Meatloaf, Chiles Rellenos, Sopaipilla Delight, Biscochitos with Ice Cream

Las Ristras Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Katrinah’s East Mountain Grill – Edgewood, New Mexico

Katrinah’s East Mountain Grill in Edgewood

It’s interesting that the New Mexico State Constitution bars “idiots” and “insane persons” from voting, but quips about votes being cast by dead people, family pets and farm animals have been pervasive over the years in some counties and municipalities.  In some of the same counties and municipalities, the saying “vote early and vote often” has seemed more a way of life than an aphorism.  Not all citizens of the Land of Enchantment exercise their right to vote, but some, it seems, exercise it vigorously…and often. 

Perhaps realizing the enthusiasm some New Mexicans have for the right to vote, the New Mexico Tourism Department allowed them to cast their vote daily for their favorite breakfast burrito in the statewide Breakfast Burrito Byway contest and tourism initiative.  Voters cast some 46,766 votes for their favorites among 400 nominated restaurants.  The top fifty vote-getters became “founding members” of the inaugural Byway. Katrinah’s East Mountain Grill in Edgewood garnered the most votes, tallying 2,623 votes (not quite one vote per resident in the community of 3,379 souls). 

The front dining room at Katrinah’s

In a “get the vote out” campaign utilizing Facebook, whiteboards and the ever-effective personal touch, Katrinah’s proved that in New Mexico the popular vote still counts (often more than once) and small communities do have a voice.  In the case of Katrinah’s, it’s a very active and powerful voice that drowned out the behemoth burrito-making bullies on the block in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.  It’s a voice that garnered more support than breakfast burrito assembling megaliths such as Lotaburger, Twisters and The Flying Star.  

Quite unlike many other election results in New Mexico which generally end up with voter dissatisfaction or antipathy, the result of the Breakfast Burrito Byway voting was viewed by many with curiosity and a sense of adventure.  How far away is Edgewood?  How do we get there?  New Mexicans may not always be willing to drive ten blocks to cast a vote, but we’ll drive tremendous distances for a great breakfast burrito just as we would for a great green chile cheeseburger.

Fried Green Beans With Green Chile Ranch Dressing

Since it was announced that Katrinah’s breakfast burrito reigns supreme in the Land of Enchantment, visits to the small strip-mall eatery have increased significantly.  Initially Katrinah’s was “slammed” with out-of-town and even out-of-state diners and while the hullabaloo has slowed just a bit, first-timers area an almost daily occurrence.  Shame on New Mexicans who believe they’re in Texas the second they cross the Sandias going east; they can get to Katrinah’s in under half an hour from the Big I.   It’s well worth the drive!

Even if you weren’t visiting Katrinah’s for the breakfast burrito, the menu has a number of intriguing offerings which will warrant return visits.  The “Thunder Burger” (triple battered deep fried 1/2 lb burger with green chile and Cheddar), for example, sounds too good not to return, arteries be damned.   The fried green beans with your choice of housemade dressing are worth a return trip on their own, especially if you opt for the green chile ranch dressing.  These fried green beans will make a convert out of anyone who thinks they don’t like green beans.  They’re lightly battered, crispy and have the snap of freshness when you bite into them.

Katrinah’s famous breakfast burrito with green chile, green chile sausage and pinto beans

The breakfast burrito is a beauteous behemoth, bulging at its seams with fluffy eggs and cubed potatoes then topped with shredded yellow and white Cheddar cheeses and your choice of red or green chile (or even Texas “chili” if you’re so inclined).  Cumin is used in the preparation of both the red chile and the Texas chili.  The green chile is delicious and since you can’t have enough of a good thing, ask for your burrito to include the housemade green chile sausage, too.  The burrito is served with pinto beans, the other official New Mexico state vegetable.  This is an excellent breakfast burrito, large enough for two to share, but so good you won’t want to.

Breakfast is served until 2PM.  The rest of the menu is available all day long.  If you have vegetarian, gluten-free or other dietary concerns, your server will be happy to give you suggestions.  A fully-stocked coffee bar features Starbucks coffee or espresso.  Desserts include fountain-style shakes and malts, baked goods and ice cream treats.  The cinnamon rolls are so generously iced that it surprised me when my convivial server offered to slather it with melted butter.  That would have been a bit too rich and cloying for my tastes.

Cinnamon Roll

What’s surprising about Katrinah’s East Mountain Grill is not that it garnered more votes than any other purveyor of excellent breakfast burritos in New Mexico.  What’s surprising is that if it hadn’t been for New Mexico voters, many of us might never have heard of Katrinah’s.

Katrinah’s East Mountain Grill
150 Highway 344
Edgewood, New Mexico
(505) 281-9111
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 29 October 2014
COST: $$
BEST BET: Breakfast Burrito, Fried Green Beans,Cinnamon Roll

Katrinah's East Mountain Grill on Urbanspoon

The Spot Cafe – Corrales, New Mexico (CLOSED)

The Spot Cafe in Corrales, New Mexico

Big Bang Theory wunderkind Sheldon Cooper has a spot he describes as the “singular location in space around which revolves my entire universe.”  That spot is the left side of his couch, a location he has placed “in a state of eternal dibs.”  In scientific terms, Sheldon relates his spot as “a single point of consistency in an ever-changing world.”  His attachment to that one spot borders on obsession, but he’s not the only television character that possessive of his spot.

In television comedies, characters have always had their favorite spots and show little tolerance for anybody who tries to sit in them.  Cheers barflies Norm Peterson and Cliff Claivin had their favorite bar stools.  Jerry Seinfeld, George Costanza and Cosmo Kramer always sat at their favorite table at Monk’s Diner.  Heaven help anyone who sat on Archie Bunker’s favorite chair, the most famous and only one of the aforementioned spots on display at the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Interior of the Spot Cafe

Television personalities are often based on and mimic real life characters.  As such, it will be interesting to see what Corrales resident will develop an attachment to a favorite spot at its newest eatery (as of May, 2014), fittingly named The Spot.  That’s an appropriate appellation for a cafe which promises to be a very popular gathering spot in the heart of the village.  The Spot opened its doors in May, 2014 and is open for breakfast and lunch every day but Tuesday from 7AM until 3PM. 

The Spot occupies the spot previously held by the Oasis Cafe within the Village Plaza, an 11,000 square-foot complex just north of the Corrales fire station.  At the help are Aaron and Deb Worrell, veteran restaurateurs with more than two decades in the industry.  In addition to The Spot, the couple own and operate two Aaron’s Sandwich Time restaurants in the Duke City.  It goes without saying, therefore, that sandwiches are part and parcel of the cafe’s menu.

Milk Shakes made from Blue Bell Ice Cream

Interestingly, the cafe’s ambiance bespeaks fine dining with linen tablecloths, cloth napkins and table service but the menu is more akin to an over-the-counter operation with an emphasis on contemporary comfort food at great prices. It’s an inviting menu both during breakfast and lunch.  Start the morning off with build-your-own omelets, panini-stuffed French toast, breakfast sandwiches and a nice line-up of breakfast burritos.  Sandwiches and burgers highlight the lunch menu, but no ordinary burgers are these.  A one-half pound Angus beef burger is available with your choice of toppings and is prepared to your exacting specifications.

Reason enough to visit The Spot are the housemade milk shakes made from Blue Bell ice cream, arguably the best ice cream in America.  When we moved from Mississippi to Albuquerque, Blue Bell ice cream was what we missed most–even more than blackened redfish and oysters.  The Spot’s milk shakes remind us why.  The Dutch Chocolate milk shake is rich and creamy with an adult dark chocolate flavor and a decadent fudge swirl.  The Spot offers a number of different Blue Bell flavors, all on display in a freezer.  You’ll want to try them all.

Green Chile Steak Melt with Sweet Potato Fries

10 May 2014: Over the years, my friends and I have, like Indiana Jones in pursuit of historical treasure, trekked throughout the city in pursuit of the best green chile Philly.  Only a handful (the very best being from Itsa Italian Ice) meet our exceedingly high standards.  The Spot’s green chile steak melt ranks right up there with them.  It’s a sandwich Philadelphia would be proud to call its own.   This gem of a sandwich is constructed from very high quality ingredients: tri-tip steak, a full-flavored, low fat content cut of steak; red, green and yellow peppers; caramelized onions and plenty of New Mexico green chile on your choice of bun (including one impregnated with green chile).

10 May 2014: Half-pound Angus burgers, with your choice of toppings, are sure to please the most discerning of burgerphiles.  The list of toppings options truly allows you to have it your way.  My way was with green chile, bacon and cheese along with the standard toppings of lettuce and tomato.  Not surprisingly, the Angus beef patty is very flavorful courtesy of nicely marbled beef prepared at a juicy medium.  Served on a green chile bun, this burger warrants further exploration with different toppings.  It’s a good one.

“Kobe” Burger with Baked Beans

10 May 2014: Sandwiches and burgers are available with a number of sides including sweet potato fries and baked beans.  The baked beans are terrific, so good I wiped them out before even trying the burger.  Unlike far too many baked beans, these are not candy cloying, but have a depth of flavors that’s very enjoyable and which might transport you to memories of barbecues.  The sweet potato fries are also quite good.

13 July 2014: When my friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, declared The Spot’s biscuits and gravy “the best I have ever had.  Anyplace.  Perfection,” it created a dilemma for me.  Biscuits and gravy border on traumatizing, the result of having been subjected in Air Force cafeterias to absolutely horrible renditions of this popular Southern breakfast staple.   On the other hand, when Larry is as passionate about a dish as he is The Spot’s biscuits and gravy, you’re well advised to try it…and soon.

Biscuits and Gravy–quite possibly the best in New Mexico (if not the universe)

13 July 2014: Biscuits and gravy combine various textures and flavors into each bite, making it a deliciously diverse, palate pleasing breakfast entree. Crumbled sausage links enliven the flavor of a tasty milk, flour and butter-based gravy served over three split biscuits topped with two eggs made the way you want them. The fluffy, steamy interior of the split biscuits coupled with the sturdy biscuit exterior are a perfect repository for the smooth, delicious body of the sausage gravy.  The eggs (Larry likes them over-easy) blanket the biscuits and provide runny yoke deliciousness.  This dish is served on a “too hot to handle” skillet.

13 July 2014: While the standard breakfast menu includes waffles, there’s just something special about the combination of chicken and waffles.  It’s a combination which has become increasingly popular in the Food Network age.  Several Duke City restaurants serve fairly standard versions.  The Spot stands out for its unique take on this Belgian culinary specialty.  To truly appreciate this entree, available with or without bones, ask for the honey-BBQ glaze instead of the standard waffle syrup.  The honey-BBQ glaze is reminiscent of sauces used on Asian dishes–not the sweet and sour type of sauce, but the sauces which impart proportionate measures of sweet, savory and tart flavors.  It’s probably not everybody’s cup of sauce, but adventurous types will enjoy it. The chicken itself is perfectly fried with a golden crust.

Chicken and Waffles

In time, The Spot Cafe promises an even more inviting menu, one replete with comfort food favorites diners will appreciate. This is a restaurant which just might become your spot.

The Spot Cafe
4940 Corrales Road
Corrales, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT:  13 July 2014
1st VISIT: 10 May 2014
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Wagyu Burger, Baked Beans, Chile Melt, Sweet Potato Fries, Milk Shakes, Chicken and Waffles, Biscuits and Gravy

The Spot Cafe on Urbanspoon

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