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Magdalena Cafe – Magdalena, New Mexico

The Magdalena Cafe and Steakhouse

In 1863 during the height of the Civil War, soldiers on leave from Fort Craig staked claims to silver strikes in the Magdalena Mountains.  Within a few years, the boom towns of Kelly and Magdalena had sprung up, eventually achieving a population surpassing even Socorro, the county seat.  The first veins of metal ore given up by the rocky promontories were lead and zinc, but ultimately silver became the principal source of wealth. 

With the arrival of the railroad in 1884, Magdalena became a rowdy frontier mining town and one of the Southwest’s largest cattle shipping centers with its stockyards processing thousands of cattle and sheep.  Magdalena became known as the “Trails End” because the spur line which originated in Socorro had its terminus in the town named for the likeness of Mary Magdalene on a nearby slope.  The railroad transported cattle, sheep, wool, timber and wool.  It also transported carloads of ore to a smelter outside of Socorro.

Dining Room at the Magdalena Cafe and Steakhouse

No vestiges of the railroad remain, but it’s easy to imagine how spectacular the 20 meandering miles from Socorro to Magdalena must have been by train.  That’s because Highway 60 approximates the route of the railroad line nicknamed “the elevator” because it climbed two-thousand feet in roughly sixteen miles.  Highway 60 snakes its way past dramatic gorges, impressive boulders and large cattle ranches to emerge on the plains outside Magdalena.  It’s a magnificent drive. 

Today, instead of metalliferous lodes, Magdalena’s principal source of richness just may be its deep appreciation of its history and traditions.  Several historic buildings–including the railroad depot which has been repurposed as the town’s city hall and library–have survived, some serving as homes to active businesses or private homes.  Every year on the second weekend of July, Magdalena hosts its “Old Timers Reunion,” a three-day event celebrating the “good ole days” with such events as a rodeo, parade, street dance, arts and crafts and barbecue.

Green Chile Cheeseburger with Fries

Situated roughly at the geographical center of Socorro County, Magdalena can also boast of a presence on the prestigious New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, a distinction the Magdalena Cafe shares with two other Socorro county purveyors of the Land of Enchantment’s sacrosanct sandwich.  Magdalena is little more than half an hour away from San Antonio, New Mexico, the home of the world-famous Owl Cafe and the nearly-as-famous Buckhorn Tavern. but its green chile cheeseburger has yet to achieve the fame of its burger brethren.  Attribute that to the perception that Magdalena an “out-of-the-way” and “off-the-beaten path” destination. 

Adventurous diners who do trek to Magdalena will be rewarded with a spectacular drive to a beautiful frontier town which embraces its history and embodies hospitality.  They’ll also discover a green chile cheeseburger which some say rivals its Socorro county counterparts for sheer deliciousness.  The Magdalena Cafe sits on Main Street, not quite a block south of Highway 60.  Though it didn’t launch until 1986, the building housing the Cafe dates from the turn of the twentieth century.

Ground Beef Tacos

While its full appellation is Magdalena Cafe & Steakhouse, the Cafe has somewhat abbreviated serving hours with very distinct breakfast, lunch and dinner menus.  Dinner is when steak makes it onto the menu, but dinner is served only on Thursday and Friday nights from 5PM to 7PM.  Breakfast and lunch are served Monday through Saturday from 7AM to 1:30PM.   The menus offer a hearty repast befitting all hungry and weary road-warriors. It includes burgers, hot sandwiches, milk shakes, steaks, homemade pies and so much more. 

The green chile cheeseburger is nearly the size of one of the Very Large Array’s (only 24 miles away) antennas and unlike some burgers, you won’t need a radio astronomy observatory to find the beef.  The hand-formed ground beef patty extends beyond the six-inch buns and probably weighs in at eight or nine ounces.  At medium-well, it’s still got plenty of juices and flavor.  The green chile is sourced from Sichler Farms during chile harvesting season. It’s a very nicely roasted chile with a discernible, but not overpowering, bite. Standard toppings include lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and onions.   This five-napkin burger takes a backseat to no other burger, not even its neighbors to the east.  It’s a top tier green chile cheeseburger in its own right…and as if a behemoth burger isn’t enough, an order of French fries is nearly the size of a cord of wood.

Banana Split Pie

After Bob of the Village People commented about a taco shell “with a 1/2 inch flat bottom so Mamacitas could easily sit it on the food prep board to easily fill it,” it dawned on me that I’d never had such a hard-shelled travesty (largely because my preference is for soft-shelled tacos and hard-shelled tacos were invented by Taco Bell).  By sheer coincidence, an a la carte order of two tacos at the Magdalena Cafe was constructed from the flat-bottom shells Bob mentioned.  The flat-bottom not only makes filling these tacos easier, it allows for more filling.  In this case, a generous amount of seasoned ground beef, lettuce, chopped tomatoes and shredded cheese.   As hard-shelled tacos go, these were quite good, especially when salsa is applied.

Not only is the Magdalena Cafe within easy driving distance of New Mexico’s green chile cheeseburger Mecca, it’s less than an hour from the Land of Enchantment’s fabled Pie Town.  If the New Mexico Tourism Department ever decides to create a “Pie Trail,” the Magdalena Cafe belongs among the pantheon of peerless pies.  An apple pie is featured fare daily, but the menu also includes a mouthwatering selection of fruit and non-fruit fresh-baked goodness.  My request for my server to “surprise me” actualized with a slice of banana split pie.  That’s banana split, not banana cream.  Whatever image you might be contriving as to what this pie  might be will fall shortAtop a perfectly crumbly crust is a layer of sliced bananas topped with a luscious chocolate filling and whipped cream. It’ll make a convert out of you.

The Magdalena Cafe is the quintessential small town cafe in a small town every New Mexican should visit at least once (though a return trip is ensured after one visit and one meal).

Magdalena Cafe
109 Main Street
Magdalena, New Mexico
(575) 854-2696
LATEST VISIT: 9 July 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, French Fries, Ground Beef Tacos, Banana Split Pie, Lemonade

Magdalena Cafe on Urbanspoon

Bibo Bar & Grille – Bibo, New Mexico

Bibo Bar & Grille in Cibola County

There’s an old Lebanese proverb that says, “some men build a wine cellar after only finding one grape.” That proverb aptly describes the many rags to riches success stories among Lebanese immigrants to the Land of Enchantment, primarily to our state’s northern villages. Some of New Mexico’s most prominent names in business–Maloof, Bellamah, Hanosh, Ghattas, Sahd and others–embody the spirit of that proverb.

The progenitors of many of New Mexico’s Lebanese immigrants left Lebanon during the repressive Ottoman Empire, the main exodus occurring in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Escaping persecution and poverty, some arrived with nothing but aspirations, dreams and hopes. The frontier territory of New Mexico was replete with opportunity (and the prospect of freedom) for them.

The bar at Bibo Bar & Grille

Like their Phoenician forefathers had done, many of them began as door-to-door peddlers, many eventually launching trading posts or general stores in the small villages in which they settled. The “Arabes” as they are sometimes still called by Hispanics were hard workers, shrewd businessmen, community-minded and family-oriented. They fit right in with the tight-knit Hispanic communities which shared similar values–so much so that Los Arabes of New Mexico, a wonderful book written by Monika Ghattas  is subtitled Compadres From a Distant Land

In the vernacular and tradition of Hispanic Northern New Mexico, few–if any–titles were held in such esteem and reverence by elder generations as “compadre” (male) and “comadre” (female).  In his Dictionary of New Mexico & Southern Colorado Spanish, Ruben Cobos defines a compadre as a “ritual co-parent; a term by which godparents address the father of their godchild and by which the child’s parents address the godfather.”  That’s the esteem to which many of the Arabes were…and still are held today.

Bibo Bar & Grille Dining Room

On January 1st, 1913, a mature beyond his 22 years of age Arabe named Joseph Hanosh opened the Hanosh Brothers Trading Post in the small village of Bibo, New Mexico.  Most of his customers were either Native Americans from nearby pueblos and Spanish descendents.  Joseph befriended many of his neighbors, joining in holiday festivities and celebrations as well as day-to-day activities.  He ran the operation until 1946 when his daughter and son-in-law purchased the mercantile in which they operated a grocery store  on one side and a bar on the other.  As time went by, the bar became the focal point of the family business.

Today the Bibo Bar & Grille is owned and operated by Joseph’s grandson Eddie Michael who also serves as Cibola County Commission Chairman.  Surmounting a rough patch after the nearby uranium mine’s closure, the Bibo Bar has become a popular Cibola County destination frequented by motorcycle and car clubs from throughout the north.  At least some of that can be credited to the food prepared and served on the premises.  

Green Chile Cheeseburger and a mountain of French Fries

The green chile cheeseburger, in particular, warrants acclaim and was placed on the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail in both 2009 and 2011.  My first visit was prompted by an email from Randall, one of the most passionate commentators on this blog.  Randall made the audacious claim that Bibo’s green chile cheeseburger is even better than the one served at the 66 Pit Stop, home of the Laguna Burger.   Randall might just be right!

The green chile cheeseburger is a beefy behemoth–half a pound of beef, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, cheese and green chile with mushrooms and bacon available for a bit more.  The beef patty is hand-formed and extends beyond the six-inch buns.  It’s a thick patty prepared at not quite medium-well with enough juiciness to warrant at least three napkins and so much deliciousness, it may make you swoon.  The sesame seed buns aren’t quite up to the task of holding in all the contents of this burger, but on the other hand, at least you’re not choking down more bread than beef.  The green chile (spelled “chili” on the menu) is pleasantly piquant.  It’s an outstanding green chile cheeseburger and it’s served with a mountain of French fries.

The  menu isn’t a one-trick-pony, featuring everything from grilled chicken sandwiches to Ribeye or New York Strip with your choice of corn-on-the-cob, fries or onion rings and Texas toast.  Small and large enchilada casseroles are available with a 24 hour advance notice.  You can belly up to the charming bar and get to know the friendly staff  or you can enjoy the black-and-white photographs festooning the dining room’s walls.  Beverages include a number of flavored teas as well as canned sodas, including root beer, cream soda and even RC cola.

It’s entirely possible many readers have never heard of Bibo, New Mexico. Bibo can be reached by taking exit 114 off I-40 then heading 11 miles north of Old Laguna on Highway 279. The scenery along the route is spectacular…and so is the green chile cheeseburger.

Bibo Bar & Grille
Mile Marker 11 Highway 279
Bibo, New Mexico
(505) 552-9428
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 11 June 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Fries, RC Cola

Bibo Bar & Grille on Urbanspoon

66 Pit Stop: Home of the Laguna Burger – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The 66 Pit Stop: Home of the Laguna Burger on the banks of the Rio Pueblo west of Albuquerque

The history of New Mexico is fraught with tales of hardship and peril. Enchanting as it may be, New Mexico is a land which can be harsh and unforgiving as early settlers found out when, amidst the ravages of climatic extremes, they traversed austere terrain in search of wealth and a better life.  There were no interstate highways nor high-speed motorized conveyances to ferry them across the barren and cruel desert.  There were no hotels and motels in which they could rest their weary bones nor restaurants to quell the pangs of hunger and thirst which parched their throats.

The storied trails that brought settlers and traders to New Mexico, remnants of which have mostly disappeared over time, were scarcely more than ruts carved into the earth by wagons, horses and oxen.  History has glorified those trails–the Santa Fe, Butterfield and Camino Real among them–but the truth of their harshness is far from glamorous. One especially treacherous and dry section of El Camino Real was so brutal, it was designated by the Spanish conquistadores as the Jornada del Muerto, Spanish for “route of the dead man.”

The 50’s themed diner in which some of New Mexico’s very best green chile cheeseburgers are prepared

The advent of the railroad system heralded the beginning of the end of the trail systems and made travel to and from New Mexico a more pleasant, far less hazardous adventure.  Today when people associate trails with New Mexico, it’s usually not with trepidation, but with respect and admiration.  Instead of such ominous names as Jornada Del Muerto, New Mexico’s trails are now bestowed such inviting sobriquets as The Turquoise Trail.  Instead of peril and woe, New Mexico’s trails are scenic and beautiful, providing a vast array of fun and recreational activities.

In 2009, the word “trail” began to take on a new connotation.  Cheryl Jamison, the scintillating four-time James Beard award-winning author and the New Mexico Tourism Department’s culinary liaison, conceptualized a “culinary trail” concept designed to capitalized on the widespread interest–both by locals and tourists–on the Land of Enchantment’s incomparable cuisine.  The inaugural culinary trail was the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, a celebration of New Mexico’s iconic, some say unofficial and favorite, state food.

The dining room at the Home of the Laguna Burger

The dining room at the Home of the Laguna Burger

More than 8,000 people–residents, visitors, critics and restaurateurs–cast their ballots for their favorite green chile cheeseburgers.  When the ballots were tallied, the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail listed four dozen purveyors of green chile cheeseburgers from among the 200 or so nominated.  The Trail included burger bastions from Abiquiu to Zuni and from all four corners of the state.  Those burgers are prepared in restaurants, drive-ins, diners, dives, joints, cafes, roadside stands and even bowling alleys.

One of green chile cheeseburger restaurants garnering the most votes was a superette (convenience store) with the intriguing name “Home of the Laguna Burger.” Driving on I40 past the Pueblo of Laguna, I had seen signage for the burger, but dismissed it as just another promotion for the Pueblo’s popular casino. My mistake!

Cheromiah Marshall prepares a green chile cheeseburger

The Laguna Burger is simply one of the very best green chile cheeseburgers in New Mexico!  Cooked to order from 100 percent, never frozen ground beef (an 80/20 blend), it is a half-pound of pure deliciousness.  Today, there are three Homes of the Laguna Burger, the most recent addition strategically positioned directly across I40 from the Route 66 Casino.  Interestingly, it has an Albuquerque address (14311 Central Avenue).  As with its siblings, it is located within the confines of a superette.  Walk past the checkout counters and their temptations and you’ll find a diner-like space dedicated to the Laguna burger and several other menu items.

Though the Home of the Laguna Burger is tiny (about eight bar stools and a small dining room for seating), the aromas of beef on a flattop grill waft throughout the large superette like an olfactory siren’s call.  After perusing the menu–which offers both lunch and dinner–and placing your order, find a seat.  The best seat in the house is probably on one of the bar stools where you can watch the green chile cheeseburger being lovingly prepared for you.

    The now famous Laguna Burger with Fries

The now famous Laguna Burger with Fries

Yes, lovingly!  The shirts worn by the staff are emblazoned with the slogan, “Is it the beef or is it the love?”.  If Cheromiah Marshall is manning the grill, you can be assured it’s equal parts of both.  Cheromiah is as engaging and funny as any counter man in New Mexico.  He takes great pride in the Laguna Burger, answering my questions with an impish grin–first giving me a comedic response then the actual answer.  Where does Laguna Burger get its beef?  From my uncle’s cows.  Where do you get your green chile?  From my uncle’s farm if the cows don’t eat it.  It is great fun.

Cheromiah beamed with pride in telling me the Laguna Burger came in second at Governor Richardson’s inaugural green chile cheeseburger challenge and that it received more votes than any other purveyor of green chile cheeseburgers on the Trail.  When I informed him the winner of the Governor’s challenge is now closed, he said, “now we’re the best.”  That claim is hard to dispute.  The Laguna Burger is outstanding!

Frito Pie

As Cheromiah prepared my burger, another staffer shaped ground beef into rounded balls, weighing them to ensure each was exactly eight ounces.  Each burger is prepared to order; the Laguna Burger is not fast food.  At strategic intervals in the grilling process, the green chile (Bueno brand) is placed on the grill where it sizzles and spits as in protest.  The cheese is added later to ensure just the right level of meltedness.  The Laguna Burger is adorned with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and mustard on a sesame seed bun.

This is a perfectly seasoned burger.  The beef patty is juicy and delicious at about medium-well.  The vegetables are fresh–crisp lettuce, juicy tomatoes, lip pursing pickles, red onions.  The green chile, at least the batch I’ve had in three visits, was piquant enough to get my attention. It’s delicious through and through, so good you’ll want another, but so large you might not have the room.  That’s especially true if you also order the fresh-cut, never frozen French fries.  The fries, shades of gold and brown, are neither too flaccid nor too stiff.  They’re fries the way they should be made.

The Home of the Laguna Burger has a surprisingly large menu for operating in such a small space.  The menu includes foot long hot dogs and chili cheese dogs, corn dogs, grilled cheese sandwiches (on Texas toast), Frito pies, chicken tenders, onion rings, taquitos with salsa and more, but it would be very hard to pass up the Laguna Burger. 

Lest you think my opinion of the 66 Pit Stop: Home of the Laguna Burger is mine alone, read the glowing review from Hannah and Edward, Albuquerque’s podcasters nonpareil.  When Andrea Feucht was asked by The Guardian of London to list the top ten restaurants and cafes in Albuquerque, she listed the 66 Pit Stop, Home of the Laguna Burger as one of those ten.  By any standards, this diminutive purveyor of green chile cheeseburgers is a ten. 

Note: Even though the Home of the Laguna Burger at  the 66 Pit Stop has an Albuquerque address (14311 Central Avenue, N.W.), you won’t find it anywhere within the city’s urban sprawl.  To get there you’ll want to drive west on I-40 and take exit 114.  It’s directly across I-40 from the Route 66 Casino.

Home of the Laguna Burger
66 Pit Stop
14311 Central Avenue, NW
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Web Site

(505) 352-7848
LATEST VISIT: 14 February 2014
1st VISIT: 15 June 2010
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 21
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, French Fries, Frito Pie

66 Pit Stop (Laguna Burger) on Urbanspoon