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Dandy Burger – Española, New Mexico

Dandy's in Espanola

Dandy’s in the heart of the beautiful Espanola valley

Back in my halcyon youth as a multi-sport athlete at Peñasco High School (when I could consume half a million calories a meal at no detriment to my then svelte physique), Dandy Burger in beautiful downtown Española was a frequent dining destination–particularly after the then “not so mighty” Peñasco Panthers suffered a loss (and there were many of them).

On the rare occasion in which we actually won a game, our coaches would “treat us” to chicken fried steak at some “fancy” restaurant. We didn’t have the heart to tell them we preferred Dandy Burger.  Frankly, I still do.  It’s hard to resist stopping for a green chile cheeseburger and a bit of nostalgia every time we drive through Española.

The smiling burger marquee at Dandy’s Burgers (Photo by Nancy Heins-Glaser)

The food at Dandy Burger was never quite good enough to lessen the pain of a loss then and is even less capable of doing so today when the losses I experience are more costly (as in a poor performing 401K…or is that now 4.1K). Still, I always have a contented sense of nostalgia when I see the familiar anthropomorphic burger that symbolizes this popular neighborhood hangout.

Dandy Burger’s “mascot” is a cartoonish, tuxedo- and top hat-wearing, cane-wielding, burger-headed anthropomorph resembling Jeeves the butler on the restaurant’s signage. The burger’s entire countenance (resembling the ubiquitous smiley face) occupies the top half of the bun. It’ll put a smile on your face, especially if it portends a meal.

The friendly staff at Dandy’s (Photo by Nancy Heins-Glaser)

Most of those memories are of the standard “Dandy Burger” or the more prodigious “Big Jim Dandy” with double meat, two very good burgers, particularly if ameliorated with green chile. These burgers are dressed with unfailingly crisp onion, lettuce, pickle and mustard but you can pretty much have them any way you want. The meat patties are obviously not hand-formed and fresh ground, but they’re charbroiled to perfection.

The green chile is neon green and only of medium piquancy. All other ingredients are fresh and delicious though at times I’ve wished for salad dressing, so profuse is the lettuce on each burger.  If you want piquancy on your burger, ask for a couple of plastic tubs of salsa.  Dandy Burger’s salsa is the most piquant item offered by the restaurant.  It’ll enliven your burger.

Tacos from Dandy Burger

Tacos from Dandy Burger

Rio Arriba county, and in particular Española, are home to some of the best green chile cheeseburgers in New Mexico. Dandy Burger’s offerings compete with both the Stop and Eat burgers less than a quarter mile away or the LotaBurger about a mile north. All three can quell hunger far better than the Peñasco Panthers defense of days gone by could stymie their opponents.

Even better than Dandy Burger’s burgers are the standard hard-shelled tacos, sloppy (cheese, lettuce, chopped tomato) concoctions which include a beans and meat mixture with a piquant bite. You don’t necessarily need the plastic tubs of hot sauce to heat up these beauties; they’ve got some bite on their own. My Kim has long contended that these tacos are among the very best in Rio Arriba county.

A gigantic double meat green chile cheeseburger

A gigantic double meat green chile cheeseburger–good enough to have been placed on the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail

Chicharrones are one of the favorite “condiments” in Northern New Mexico where these pork crackling cubes are used on almost everything but dessert.  They’re especially good on burritos.  Perhaps nowhere in the Land of Enchantment will you find a burrito quite as engorged with chicharrones as at Dandy Burger where each tortilla encased treasure is packed with them.  Alas, some of the chicharrones are more fatty than they are meaty, but that’s pretty much par for the course.

Chicharron Burrito

Chicharron Burrito

Dandy Burger’s shakes are always cold, a wonderful blessing on a sweltering summer day when Española’s pavement is baking everything on the road.

Dandy Burger
215 San Pedro Plaza
Espanola, New Mexico
(575) 753-4234
LATEST VISIT: 17 February 2013
# OF VISITS: 10
RATING: 17
COST: $
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Taquitos, Tacos, Milk Shakes, Frito Pie, Chicharron Burrito

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El Parasol – Española, New Mexico

El Parasol in Pojoaque, New Mexico

El Parasol in Espanola, New Mexico

If you were in a hurry, driving through Española on a hot summer day in the early 1980s might have raised the diastolic level (the lower number) of your blood pressure to the level of the temperature gauge. That’s because on Sunday afternoons, Española’s main thoroughfares were the domain of the lowriders, elaborately painted late-model cars (many with intricate religious murals on the hood) whose suspension is replaced with hydraulic cylinders to allow the car to be drastically lowered when parked and raised back up for travel.

Española etiquette dictated that no one, not even the law, interfered with the low-and-slow (sounds like barbecue) pace these sparkling cars set as they hugged the pavement on both lanes for the entire length and breadth of the city limits. The lowered late-model cars with their custom paint jobs, tiny steering wheels and chrome wheels were in no hurry; attracting attention was a major aim of lowriding. As a result, it might take an hour or more to drive through Española. Because of its tradition of highlighting the cars as part of local culture and the high number of lowriders per capita, the city earned the sobriquet of the “lowrider capital of the world.”

Green Chile Cheeseburger

Although the Sunday parade of “bajitos” cruising Espanola’s streets isn’t quite as prevalent as it once was, no one in the world appreciates fine cars as much as the good folks in Española. Many of those fine cars still drive slowly as they congregate at essential city landmarks such as El Parasol, a “taco stand” adjacent to the world-famous El Paragua restaurant. They drive slowly in hopes that a parking spot will soon be vacated and they can take its place under the towering alamos next to the restaurant. Once the car is parked, it’s but a short walk to El Parasol where patrons queue up sometimes ten deep or more for excellent New Mexican cuisine.

El Parasol (the umbrella) doesn’t just handle El Paragua’s diner overflow. It’s become a dining destination in its own right. El Parasol became so successful in Española that two other El Parasol restaurants have since been launched, one in Pojoaque and one in Santa Fe.  Similar to its elder brethren, the Pojoaque restaurant has a menu posted on its exterior wall. It also has a pick-up window, but there is no intercom in which to place a take-out order. All actual ordering and pick-up is done inside the restaurant.

Underneath all that lettuce is probably the best Chicken-Guacamole Taco in New Mexico

With apologies to Sugar’s BBQ & Burgers and El Farolito, El Parasol just might serve up the best green chile cheeseburger in Rio Arriba county and with the addition of the Pojoaque and Santa Fe restaurants, one of the very best in Santa Fe county. The ingredients–lettuce, tomato, pickle, mustard and green chile–may seem pretty standard, but when crafted in either the tiny wooden hut in Española or the more conventional stucco restaurant in Pojoaque, those burgers meld into an explosion of taste. The green chile zings with piquant flavor, the hand-formed beef patty is thick and juicy (even better if you order a double-meat green chile cheeseburger) and the entire creation is piled high–just the way New Mexicans love it. Burgerphiles even have the option of a burger dressed with guacamole, bacon and green chile–three great tastes that taste even better together. This is a two-fisted burger, but not always a multi-napkin affair because the beef patty is usually fairly well done.

El Parasol is also renowned for its quesadillas, tacos, burritos, tamales and even arroz con pollo (a rice and chicken soup) and menudo. This is all Norteño food, the type of which Northern New Mexicans of my generation grew up with. You can’t discuss the cuisine of the state’s northern half without mentioning chicharonnes burrito. El Parasol’s which features bite-sized crackling pork that seems tailor-made for the restaurant’s savory green chile and its fruity-piquant bite.

Tamale

Tamale at El Parasol

If tacos are more your style and you also crave variety, the Ana Maria Combinacion plate comes with a crisp shelled shredded-chicken taco, a crisp shelled shredded-beef taco and a soft sirloin taco with guacamole. The scintillating four-time James Beard award-winning author and New Mexico gem Cheryl Alters Jamison loves the chicken-guacamole tacos. When she recommends something, you can take it to the bank. These are some of the very best tacos you’ll find anywhere. The chicken is moist and delicious while the guacamole is creamy and rich. It’s a marriage made inside a crisp fried taco shell.

While an umbrella may shield you from the hot sun or a rare New Mexico downpour, El Parasol will shield you from dreary food. It is an Española treasure every bit as alluring as the lowrider culture.

El Parasol
603 Santa Cruz Road
Española, New Mexico
(505) 753-8852
LATEST VISIT: 21 October 2012
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 19
COST: $
BEST BET: Beef Taco, Chicharon Burrito, Green Chile Cheeseburger, Tamale, Chicken-Guacamole Taco

El Parasol - Española on Urbanspoon

JoAnn’s Ranch O Casados Restaurant – Española, New Mexico

JoAnn's Ranch O Casados in Española

Shortly after it was announced that Mary & Tito’s was selected as a 2010 recipient of the James Beard Foundation’s “Americas Classic” award, the brilliant Albuquerque Journal columnist Leslie Linthicum wrote a gilt-edged tribute to my very favorite New Mexican restaurant.  Indicating “the red chile at Mary & Tito’s Cafe brings grown men to poetic fevers,” she quoted something I wrote in my review which she must have found to be sufficiently rhapsodic to warrant mention.

For anything I write to be considered even remotely “poetic” by the scintillating columnist is a great honor.  Compared to the spell-binding prose and incisive insight which typify Leslie’s columns, my writing is prosaic and dim-witted.  It’s akin to comparing Michelangelo’s work on the Cistene Chapel to the asymmetrical graffiti under an overpass…with me the tagger.  i don’t always  start off agreeing with Leslie’s viewpoints, but  so admire her sharp wit and sound-reasoned logic in forming her positions that she often sways my position.  She is simply a magnificent writer, my favorite columnist on any periodical anywhere (with apologies to the great Tom Cole)!

The interior at JoAnn's Ranch O Casados

In a 2008 column published on Thanksgiving Day, Leslie waxed eloquent in her inimitable manner about some of the things she’s for which she’s most thankful, including a New Mexican restaurant in the beautiful Española valley. She wrote, “the physical address of Joann’s restaurant is in Española. But at the precise point near the end of your meal where red chile and honey hit your tongue at the same time, I think of Joann’s as the place where heaven meets Earth.” How is that for lyrical prose!

The actual place where heaven meets Earth may well be the world-famous Casados Farms in Guique, New Mexico just north of Okay Owingeh Pueblo.  That’s where most of the chile Leslie loves so much comes from.  That’s also where JoAnn’s Ranch O Casados obtains its blue corn.  In fact, Casados Farms is where JoAnn’s acquires most of its fresh, locally grown produce.  The soil along the lush Rio Grande Valley is fecund and rich, sustaining a way of life that is quickly disappearing as Española moves further away from its agrarian roots.

Salsa in a unique bowl with red, blue and yellow corn chips

It is reputed that JoAnn Casados personally roasts and peels all the chile used in her eponymous restaurant, most of it from chile lines descendant from native chile crops.  She knows old-timers can tell the difference between commercially grown chile and chile grown locally.  She also laments the fact that the three-centuries old tradition of growing chile in the Española valley is dying out despite the increased demand.  Farmers can command a premium for locally grown chile, but JoAnn considers it a worthwhile investment.

JoAnn’s Ranch O Casados has been serving the beautiful Española valley since 1984.  Its first home was near the Big Rock Shopping Center where the restaurant took residence at the former site of a Sears catalog shop.  JoAnn’s moved to its current, more spacious location in 2003.  The parking lot seems to be perpetually crowded, but wait times at the commodious restaurant aren’t long.  The interior at JoAnn’s has an eclectic Alpine Lodge meets Tudor meets New Mexican meets American Indian motif.  Tables and benches are carved from blond knotted pine.

Huevos Rancheros with red and green chile

I don’t know if the bumper on Leslie’s vehicle has a “[Heart] at first site” bumper sticker, but you can spot them all over Española–on pristine Range Rovers and on careworn pick-up trucks which are hosed down only to remove salt residue after a snowfall.  On a wall near the “please wait to be seated” sign, there’s a poem paying loving tribute to JoAnn’s.  Though not as eloquent as had Leslie written it,  the affection is clearly conveyed.  It’s also conveyed by empty plates being carted away, some so clean it may leave you wondering if the last remnants of chile were licked away.

The menu is a compendium of Northern New Mexico favorites: enchiladas, tacos, tamales, burritos, sopaipillas and even two staples made from corn–posole and chicos, the latter of which is rarely seen south of Santa Fe.    The entire menu is available all day long and includes a wide selection of vegetarian options popular among Española’s Sikh community.  Alas, the menu does commit the cardinal sin of spelling New Mexico’s official state vegetable “chili,” a spelling I’ve programmed my spell-checker to sneer at.  At least Leslie spelled it correctly as she counted it among her blessings.

Carne Adovada with two eggs over medium and papitas

Perhaps how it’s spelled isn’t nearly as important as how it tastes and that’s where JoAnn’s excels.  You’ll get a sense of that when salsa and chips (unfortunately not complementary) are delivered to your table   Instead of on a separate bowl or ramekin, the salsa is served in an oversized “bowl” fashioned out of a crispy yellow corn tortilla.  The salsa wouldn’t register too high on the Scoville scale, but it is quite good, an artisan amalgam of jalapenos, white onions, tomatoes, cilantro, garlic and salt.  The red, yellow and blue corn chips are lightly salted and large.  Unfortunately you’ll run out of salsa before you run out of chips.

Huevos Rancheros are a specialty at JoAnn’s–corn tortillas topped with two eggs any style, shredded melted cheese, and red and green chile with a garnish of lettuce and tomato.  Two sides–pinto beans and papitas–accompany the huevos.  Neither the red or green chile are especially piquant, but both, especially the green chile, are swoon-worthy.  The green chile has a distinctly sweet-piquant flavor with little acidity.  Neon green and finely chopped, it’s as pretty as it is delectable.  The red chile is deeply red and rich with a slightly acidic aftertaste.

The pinto beans are wonderful, whole beans prepared perfectly with just a little broth to keep them moist.  The papitas are delightful little cubes fried to a golden sheen.  They’re reminiscent of French fries cut into cubes, but with a better flavor.  You won’t miss Spanish rice in the least.

Sopaipillas...and JoAnn serves real honey

Another specialty of the house is JoAnn’s carne adovada.  For breakfast it’s available with two eggs any style accompanied by papitas and pinto beans.  JoAnn’s doesn’t skimp on portion size and that holds true with the carne adovada.  You’ll be served a profuse portion, more than most can finish in a single sitting.  Large, whole chunks  of tender pork marinated in delicious red chile with a sweet, earthy flavor make this an addictive rendition of the popular pork dish.  The red chile is even less piquant on the adovada, but it’s also more delicious.

Diners have their choice of tortillas or sopaipillas.  The sopaipillas are large, puffed-up pockets of delicious dough just waiting for you to tear off a piece so they can release their steamy fragrance upwards.  JoAnn’s serves real honey, the thick, sweet, wonderful stuff, not the honey-flavored sugar some restaurants serve.  This is another difference-maker among many that account for JoAnn’s popularity.

Pancakes

JoAnn’s breakfast entrees include pancakes, nearly plate-sized orbs of golden deliciousness just waiting for butter to be slathered on and to be doused with syrup (or better yet, with honey). You can also assuage your sweet tooth with flan, ice cream, cake, sopa bread pudding (often called caprilotada) or pie.  A display case of desserts practically greets you at the door, as does JoAnn herself.

Now  I understand how Leslie Linthicum can be so thankful for JoAnn’s Ranch O Casados…even though I can’t convey it as eloquently as she did.

JoAnn’s Ranch O Casados
938 North Riverside Drive
Española, New Mexico
(505) 753-1334
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 8 August 2010
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: Carne Adovada, Huevos Rancheros, Pancakes, Salsa and Chips, Sopaipillas

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