A & B Drive In – Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

A&B Drive in in Truth or Consequences

Michael Newman, the charismatic and ebullient host of New Mexico True Television and Melinda Frame, the show’s brilliant producer-director have the very best jobs in the world.  Though not expressly stated, their true job titles should be “Ambassadors for the Great State of New Mexico” because that’s what they really are.  Every Sunday (8:30AM on KOB-TV Channel 4), they showcase the Land of Enchantment in all its magnificent splendor and incomparable beauty.  With the flair of gifted raconteurs, they know just when narration is necessary and when it’s best to let spectacular backdrops tell the story.  New Mexico True’s thematic episodes truly feed the soul and capture the imagination.

In Season 3 (Episode 4: El Camino Real Part I), the New Mexico True cast (really just Michael) and crew  spent time in Truth or Consequences, but saved any time they may have spent indulging in the city’s salubrious thermal waters (reputed to cure “anything that ails you”) for another episode.  Because New Mexico True also celebrates the Land of Enchantment’s bold flavors and culinary culture, the focus of the T or C segment was on one of the city’s most popular eateries.  Within easy walking district of the spas and bathhouses, the A & B Drive-In is not to be missed.

Place your Order at the Window

If you’re of the mind that drive-ins are anachronisms, chronological misplacements in a time to which they don’t belong, you haven’t been to the A & B at meal time.  That’s when you’ll find motorized conveyances of all types and sizes parked under metal canopies.  The experience is described by one Yelp reviewer as right out of American Graffiti, the coming-of-age movie in which teens spent much of their free time at a drive-in similar to A & B.  After you park your vehicle, you’ll walk up to a window at which you’ll place your order (the menu takes up an entire window panel) then you’ll wait for your name to be called.  You can either eat in your vehicle or on one of the picnic tables provided.

When Michael walked up to the window, he ordered a green chile cheeseburger and fries.  In his warm, casual style, he also did much of my research for me, discovering that the drive-in was named for Anthony (A) and Barbara (B), offspring of the drive-ins founders.  The drive-in was started because the siblings’ mother’s loves to cook.  Her dream was to feed her guests and have them enjoy their experience.  In that regard, the A & B is a dream-come-true.  The drive-in remains a family-owned, family-operated venture.

Green Apple Hawaiian Shaved Ice and Chocolate Shake

Though we didn’t get to meet Barbara as Michael did, the employee taking our order shared in our enthusiasm for New Mexico True having highlighted the drive-in.  She recommended the New Mexican food (burritos, tacos, tostadas, flautas, enchiladas, etc.), all of which are prepared with cumin.  The menu also includes several burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches and even gizzards.  Likely because of balmy summer temperatures, Hawaiian shaved ice is also featured fare.

The Hawaiian shaved ice (green apple) is a coarse, granular ice concoction texturally similar to a snow cone.  Similar to a snow cone, much of the “flavoring” tends to settle near the bottom which means chewing on rather flavorless ice for a while.  Much better is the chocolate shake which can be made to your exacting specifications for thickness.  It’s a chocolaty delight made with real (and really cold) ice cream.

Double Green Chile Cheeseburger with Fries

For the most part, I live vicariously through Michael whose daring exploits on New Mexico True show a much more fit, athletic and daring man than this geriatrically advanced blogger.  Though I can’t hope to duplicate his exploits in biking, running and square-dancing, I, as he did, ordered a double meat green chile cheeseburger at A & B.  You know it’s going to be a great burger when thick beef patties extend beyond the five-inch buns and when those buns practically collapse when you squash the burger down so you can get it in your mouth.  This is an excellent burger–moist, well-seasoned, dressed with fresh ingredients and skyscraper tall.  If we didn’t know better, we might have thought we were in Socorro county, New Mexico’s epicenter for behemoth burgers.

A & B’s version of a green chile Philly is a good one.  It could be a great one with a better sandwich roll.  The chopped steak, peppers and green chile work very well together, but they’re nestled in a bread home that just doesn’t cut it.  Dry and chewy, it detracts from ingredients that are otherwise moist and delicious.  My Kim took to extricating the ingredients from the bread with a fork and cutting up the bread for some birds nearby.

Green Chile Philly

The A & B Drive-In remains open longer during the day than other restaurants in Truth or Consequences, but that doesn’t account for its popularity.  It’s a solid dining option with genuinely good food and one of the best green chile cheeseburgers in southern New Mexico.

A & B Drive In
211 North Broadway Street
Truth or Consequences, New Mexico
(575) 894-9294
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 21 December 2015
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Double Meat Green Chile Cheeseburger, Green Chile Philly, Chocolate Shake

A & B Drive In Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cafe Bella Luca – Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

Bella Luca in Truth or Consequences

The qualities of an exceptional cook are akin
to those of a successful tightrope walker;
an abiding passion for the task,
courage to go out on a limb
and an impeccable sense of balance
Bryan Miller
Former New York Times food critic

The qualities of a truly exceptional cook do not include plying his or her trade under the spotlight of a heavily trafficked metropolitan restaurant frequented by the glitterati and anointed by the cognoscenti or the Food Network.   Truly exceptional cooks can shine brightly even outside the big city and media spotlight.  Some of the very best cooks and chefs in the fruited plain are relatively unheralded by the teeming masses and remain undiscovered by the the saccharine television food programs.  Some of them toil far from the well-beaten-and-well-eaten path and care more about the craft than they do the pursuit of celebrity. 

Truly exceptional cooks shine so brightly that their reputations for exceedingly high standards and inventive cuisine precede the media stampede.  The very best among these exceptional chefs maintain those standards after they’ve been discovered.  Though they may appreciate any newfound attention, their focus remains on proving themselves with every single meal and to every single guest.  These are the truly exceptional cooks, the ones whose passion for the task shines through!

The dimly lit ambiance at Bella Luca

One such chef is Byron Harrel, co-founder (along with then wife Jessica Mackenzie) of Bella Luca in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico who plied his craft among small town friendliness instead of the dog-eat-dog world of the fishbowl (wow, two bad metaphors in one sentence). Before settling in relatively sleepy T or C in 2007, he plied his craft under the bright lights and glitz of the Signature at MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Unlike the proverbial light under a bushel basket whose brilliance remains hidden, his restaurant quickly earned a reputation as a hidden gem.  Snowbirds, tourists and those of us who love T or C’s salubrious waters began spreading the word about this oasis in the desert.

Chef Harrel has moved on, but the restaurant hasn’t skipped a beat with Jessica MacKenzie at the helm.  She has brought in credentialed chefs who can execute to the vision she and her then-husband established when they launched their restaurant.  Fittingly Bella Luca translates to “beautiful light” because that’s precisely what this metropolitan caliber Italian restaurant is.  It’s the brightest culinary shining light in a city named by Budget Travel in 2008 as one of the “ten coolest small towns” in America, an honor accorded to cities with fewer than 10,000 people—but which can rival larger cities when it comes to good food, culture, and quality of life.

Bread at Bella Luca

Beautiful light might not be a term you’d ascribe to Bella Luca’s minimalist ambiance.  From the outside, there are few telltale signs (except maybe the crowded parking lot) as to why Bella Luca has become one of the highest regarded Italian restaurants in New Mexico.  If your expectations are for a swanky fine-dining interior, you won’t find that either.  Instead, Bella Luca is one large dining room whose cynosure is fittingly a brightly illuminated open kitchen. The dine-in experience includes painted concrete floor, seating that is more utilitarian than it is comfortable and north-facing picture windows with not much of a view.

Located in the historic bathhouse district, the restaurant is one block west of Broadway and within easy sauntering distance of the healing waters.  In terms of ambiance, Bella Luca might be antithetical to most foodie’s conception of a fine-dining quality Italian restaurant, but then it’s conceivable few people even notice their surroundings when they’re raptly enjoying their meals.  Admittedly, my inaugural and second visits to the beautiful light were to pick up dinner and take it back to our room at the Fire Water Lodge.  Eating out of biodegradable to-go boxes with plastic utensils is hardly the way you’d want to first experience Bella Luca, but the fact it still impressed us speaks volumes about this Italian idyll.

Spaghetti and Meatballs

In terms of a holistic dining-in experience, our inaugural visit was wholly unlike that of Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, who called his first meal at Bella Luca “the best dining experience I have ever had in New Mexico.”  Another friend and fellow foodie Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott places Bella Luca in rarefied company among the very best Italian restaurants in New Mexico.  Local IQ publisher Kevin Hopper may have given the restaurant the ultimate compliment in calling it “a chef’s restaurant.” 

Because it is a chef’s restaurant, Bella Luca won’t compromise on quality.  All dishes are prepared from scratch, employing Escoffier cooking fundamentals.  The focus is on taste and balance of flavor, using pristine, organic ingredients to enhance the individual flavors of each element.  They procure ricotta from New York City for recipes which call for it.  Whenever possible Café Bella Luca serves organic produce and uses “non-treated” chicken, wild caught seafood (flown in daily) and Colorado grass fed beef.  The quality shows.

Braised short rib in demi-glaze over gnocchi

16 June 2012: Sophia Loren, the ageless movie siren and perhaps the most voluptuous septuagenarian in the world, once said “everything you see, I owe to spaghetti.”  Certainly genetics and portion control helped, too, but perhaps her point is that spaghetti has had a ubiquitous presence on her diet as it does for many people.  Spaghetti is something my Kim loves, too, leaving the “experimenting” to me.  The spaghetti at Bella Luca is among the very best we’ve had in New Mexico.  The meatballs certainly are.  Four of them are served on the plate, each large and meaty.  The spaghetti sauce is redolent with Italian seasonings and applied parsimoniously enough for you to enjoy the pasta.  It’s the Italian way. 

16 June 2012: It’s the chef’s way to take creative liberties with traditional entrees.  The results are often brilliant.  Take, for example, the braised short rib in demi-glaze over gnocchi, a dish pitting textural and flavor contrasts against each other in a way that differences meld into a superb coalescence.  The gnocchi are delightfully uneven dumplings of deliciousness, usually signifying a hand-made approach.  Each gnocchi is close-your-eyes-and-swoon light on the tongue, as smooth and soft as pillows.  The braised short ribs are melt-in-your-mouth good.

The Capone

21 December 2015:  Wood-fired pizzas are created on one of the most attractive pizza ovens in New Mexico.  This fabulous forno is adorned with a mosaic displaying an assiduous tree.  Fittingly the pizza is equally attractive, not that you’ll appreciate its aesthetic qualities for very long.  Specialty pizzas (twelve- or fourteen-inches) and calzones are available for both lunch and dinner.  There’s a pizza for every taste, including a vegetarian-friendly pie.  If you can’t find one that meets your exacting specifications, you can build your own.  The Capone (Red Sauce, Pancetta, Salami, Prosciutto, Sopressata, Capocollo, Sausage) is certainly among the best pizzas in Southern New Mexico with its meat-lovers ingredients in perfect proportion to a tangy red sauce.

16 June 2012: Dessert options include tiramisu and other traditional Italian favorites, but on a sweltering summer day after soaking in a tub of geothermal hot mineral waters, you can’t beat sorbet and gelato, both made on the premises.  During our inaugural visit, we enjoyed prickly pear and raspberry, both of which taste as their named ingredients should taste and both of which are smooth, delicate and absolutely delicious.  It was lemon, mango and strawberry sorbet which captivated our affections during our second visit some eighteen months after our first.  This stuff is addictive!

Prickly Pear and Raspberry Sorbet

Cafe Bella Luca has become a dining destination, a restaurant to which foodies make pilgrimages.  My friends Billie Frank and Steve Collins, the Santa Fe Travelers, recount their experiences here.  Not surprisingly their experiences mirror ours–highly satisfied guests enjoying outstanding Italian food in the desert.

Cafe Bella Luca
303 Jones Street
Truth Or Consequences, New Mexico
(575) 894-9866
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 21 December 2015
1st VISIT: 16 June 2012
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 22
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Spaghetti and Meatballs, Braised Short Rib in Demi Glaze, Prickly Pear and Raspberry Sorbet, The Capone, Lemon Sorbet, Strawberry Sorbet, Mango Sorbet

Cafe BellaLuca on Urbanspoon

Latitude 33 – Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

Latitude 33, a Surprisingly Great Asian Fusion Restaurant

“Of all places in the country where you could have opened a restaurant, why Truth or Consequences, New Mexico?”  You can bet Joseph Schmitt has been asked that question many times, especially when people find out his previous address was in Palm Springs, California where he was an accomplished travel writer with a special affinity for cooking and dining.  Schmitt’s introduction to T or C started off as business but wound up as pleasure.   Assigned to write about New Mexico’s salubrious spas, he enjoyed the T or C area so much that he hawked the story idea to several publications, the impetus for several return trips.  With each return trip he found more to love about the area until ultimately relocating in April, 2013.

In all fairness, one of the reasons guests to Schmitt’s Latitude 33 Asian fusion restaurant ask “why T or C” is because they don’t expect to find a restaurant offering such sophisticated fare.  That’s especially true if they haven’t visited America’s most affordable spa town in a while.  In recent years, the influx of free-thinking quirkiness, eclectic artsiness  and a bohemian spirit have touched all aspects of life in this small city, including its restaurants.  If you visit T or C expecting only the solid, but unspectacular comfort food of yore, you’ll be more than pleasantly surprised to find unconventional and excellent eateries offering cosmopolitan cuisine with a local flair.

Main dining room at Latitude 33

No longer are K-Bob’s, Denny’s and Subway among the highest rated Truth or Consequences restaurants on Yelp, Urbanspoon and Trip Advisor. Those paragons of chain mediocrity have been supplanted by fresh, innovative independent restaurants which, quite frankly, would be competitive in larger, more cosmopolitan cities.  These interlopers sport such names as the Passion Pie Cafe, Cafe Bella Luca and Latitude 33, the latter being the most recent addition to a burgeoning dining scene. 

Latitude 33 is so named because it’s on the latitude (33.12889 to be more precise) in which the restaurant and T or C sit.  Portions of Japan and China, two of the pan-Asian countries honored on the restaurant’s fusion menu, also lie on that latitude.  Situated near the heart of the historic bathhouse and spa district, Latitude 33 fits right in with the district’s bright color palette.  Distressed brick and corrugated window treatments give the exterior a rustic look and feel while the artsy interior is a melange of Southwestern art with Asian accoutrements on wasabi green walls.  Three picnic tables are available for al fresco dining with your four-legged children.

Shishito Peppers with Green Chili Ponzu Sauce

The menu is fresh and innovative, a much-welcome respite from the copycat fare many other so-called “fusion” restaurants tend to offer.  It’s a menu reminiscent not of Albuquerque or Santa Fe Asian fusion restaurants, but of the wildly eclectic and creative fusion restaurants in such cosmopolitan cities as Portland, Oregon and Austin, Texas.  The price point is surprisingly reasonable considering the quality, diversity and in-house preparation of all soups, sauces, dressings and stocks. 

While you peruse the menu, make it a point to enjoy a sparkling strawberry-ginger lemonade, a homemade puree with soda water.  It’s a wonderfully refreshing blend of sweet-tangy strawberries, tart lemonade and lively ginger with just a hint of fizz.  The coconut-lime elixir (rich coconut milk with lime juice and a touch of mint) blends smooth mellow coconut milk with what is probably its polar opposite, tangy, refreshing lime juice.  The combination just works well.

Fried Green Beans with a Chinese Remoulade Sauce

Starters include the house Thai-style chicken noodle soup with coconut milk and rice noodles; a small Asian salad (cabbage mix, peanut dressing, veggies, sesame seeds); and a triumvirate of appetizers.  At a bare minimum, you should order at least two because if you order only one, you’ll certainly regret you didn’t sample the others.  If there’s an appetizer you haven’t previously found in New Mexico, that’s one you should consider.  The other should be a favorite appetizer so you can compare your previous favorite with Latitude 33’s made-from-scratch version. 

29 September 2014: Among the former, green chile aficionados should order the shishito peppers, a mild Japanese pepper not entirely unlike our own New Mexico green chiles.  Shishito peppers are three to four inches long and inherit the olfactory-arousing aroma of green chile when flash-fried until their skin is lightly blistered.  Unlike green chile, you don’t peel them after they’re  flash-fried.  Latitude 33  serves them with a green chile ponzu (a watery citrus-based sauce) sauce that complements the shishito peppers wonderfully.  You will absolutely fall in love with shishito peppers.  Note: The only place we’ve been able to find the addictive shishito peppers has been the Santa Fe Grower’s Market.  Shame on Asian restaurants in the Duke City and Santa Fe for not showcasing this green chile “mini me.”

Spicy Peanut Noodles with Flank Steak

29 September 2014: In recent years, fried green beans have become a rather trendy finger food appetizer health-conscious parents are actually able to get their children to enjoy–even if their persnickety children otherwise hate green beans.  Whether ordered in lieu of fattier French fries or for healthful considerations, fried green beans are quite delicious when prepared correctly.  At Latitude 33, the green beans are lightly breaded and fried to a golden hue then served with a Chinese remoulade sauce.  Each about the length of your index finger, they’re crispy just beyond al dente.  The remoulade is a savory-tangy-slightly piquant dip which may remind you of the dip you dredge up with your favorite snack.

29 September 2014: One of the most popular entrees on the menu are spicy peanut noodles, an entree for which the name falls well short of describing its deliciousness. Normally offered with tofu or chicken, the accommodating staff will substitute flank steak for a pittance more. The flank steak is seasoned magnificently and is as tender as the song of a summer wind. It’s a worthy protein for the elongated strands of wild rice noodles in a house-made spicy peanut sauce served with edamame (immature soybeans in the pod) and red peppers garnered with green onion, a wedge of lime and cucumber. The spicy peanut sauce is only mildly piquant, but imbues the noodles with a delightful flavor that marries especially well with the other ingredients. Be very judicious with the lime wedge because too much citrus will change the flavor profile significantly (and not necessarily for the better).

Coconut Green Curry Chicken

29 September 2014: In years of eating at Thai and Asian restaurants, few entrees have surprised me nearly as much as Latitude 33’s coconut green curry chicken. New Mexico’s Thai restaurants tend to prepare green curry dishes with bamboo shoots in a sweet-spicy coconut milk-enhanced curry. Latitude 33’s housemade version is made with Jasmine rice and no noodles. The curry is imbued with a touch of Hatch green chile, fresh broccoli, onion, red pepper, chicken and toasted coconut. The toasted coconut was heretofore not something my pedantic lips had ever experienced with green curry. Texturally and from a flavor perspective, it’s a nice touch. Latitude 33’s green curry isn’t overwhelmed by coconut milk as so many Thai curries in America tend to be. Instead, it treated us to a wide variety of thoroughly enjoyable flavor and texture combinations. 

20 December 2015:  In addition to five daily lunch specials (available until 2PM), the menu lists four “day or night delights” sure to delight discerning diners.  One entree rarely seen in restaurants across the Land of Enchantment is Mochiko Chicken with Mango Salsa.  If you’ve ever heard of or had Mochiko Chicken, it was likely in the Hawaiian Islands where this poultry dish is served as a sort of island style chicken nugget.  Originating in Japan, these nuggets are coated in Mochiko flour, a cornstarch and rice flour which makes a light batter with a golden hue.

Mochiko Chicken with Mango Salsa

Latitude 33’s version of Mochiko Chicken is somewhat more sophisticated than the chicken nuggets so beloved among Hawaiian children.  Instead of nugget-sized poultry pieces, this entree includes several generously sized thighs lightly coated in the flour and topped with a sweet-tangy mango salsa.  The salsa is punctuated with sliced jalapeños from which it inherits a fresh piquancy. My preference would have been for the even more incendiary Thai bird peppers, but when chopped small enough they’re hard to see and may surprise you with their potency.  For just a bit of savory acidity, the entry also includes small cherry tomatoes.

20 December 2015:  The “Day or Night Delights” menu includes yet another entree heretofore unseen in the Land of Enchantment.  The pan-seared pork tenderloin entree is a beautifully plated dish showcasing six medallions of marinated pork tenderloin in a housemade strawberry barbecue sauce.  If you’ve never had a strawberry-based sauce on an Asian-style entree, you’re in for a treat.  Strawberry-based sauces are somewhat underutilized in American Asian restaurants, but Latitude 33’s version will make you wonder why.  The lively and pungent ginger-fried rice is a wonderful foil for the sweet sauce.  Punctuated with a vegetable medley (carrots, broccoli, corn), the rice is among the best we’ve had in New Mexico.

Pan-Seared Pork Tenderloin

29 September 2014: During our inaugural visit, desserts were limited to green tea ice cream and coconut black rice pudding with whipped cream. Made with sticky whole grain black rice, just a modicum of coconut milk and a generous sprinkling of toasted coconut, this rice pudding is creamy, mildly sweet, a little savory, and very coconutty. Unlike most of the black rice puddings you’ll find, this one is served cold. It took one bite to get used to the cold sensation and focus on just how good this dessert can be. 

20 December 2015:  Latitude 33’s key lime pie had us wondering if a Key West resident would be able to tell the difference between this key lime pie and its counterpart at the Florida keys.  Unlike far too many so-called key lime pies, this one isn’t overly sweet with a Graham cracker crust providing much of its sweetness.  Instead, the flavors emphasized were a delightful tangy tartness bordering on the lip-pursing variety.  This is key lime pie with a great balance of flavors and an emphasis where those flavors are needed.

Coconut Black Rice Pudding

Latitude 33 is just one more reason we’ve grown to love Truth or Consequences, a city which surprises us more and more every time we visit.  This is one restaurant with which you’ll fall in love, too. 

Latitude 33
304 South Pershing Street
Truth or Consequences, New Mexico
(575) 740-7804
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 20 December 2015
1st VISIT: 29 September 2014
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Spicy Peanut Noodles, Shishito Peppers with Green Chili Ponzu Sauce, Coconut Green Curry Chicken, Fried Green Beans with a Chinese Remoulade Sauce Coconut Black Rice Pudding, Mochiko Chicken with Mango Salsa, Pan-Seared Pork Tenderloin, Key Lime Pie

Latitude 33 on Urbanspoon

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