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. 

For dinner, the most expensive item (crispy duck confit) is $17 with other items ranging from $9 to $15.  Lunch specials, served until 3PM, are all south of ten dollars.  The full menu is offered Monday through Saturday from 11AM to 3PM.  The dinner menu is available from 3PM to 9PM on Saturdays.  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.

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. 

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

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.

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

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.

Desserts are 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 when made correctly.

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: 29 September 2014
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,

Latitude 33 on Urbanspoon


Los Arcos Steakhouse & Bar – Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

Los Arcos Steakhouse and Bar

Because of the geothermal mineral springs which issue from the ground, the city of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico was originally named “Hot Springs.” Seeking to distinguish itself from other cities of the same name and to advertise its plentiful resources, city residents voted to rename the city in response to a challenge rendered by a successful 1950s NBC television show called Truth or Consequences. The rest, as they say, is history. This small resort town with an year round permanent population of just over 8,000 bustles with activity, much of it centered around nearby Elephant Butte lake.

Truth or Consequences (T or C to the locals) is a city which honors its history and is an exemplar of small town traditions and hospitality, but the incursion of Spaceport America and its offering of suborbital rocket rides may prompt the acceleration of the city’s eye to the future.  Deep-pocketed adventurers who can plunk down as much as $200,000 for a ticket will likely demand more of the hospitality industry than the relatively austere and simple amenities currently available in T or C.  It remains to be seen whether the city can and will change to meet those demands while retaining the small-town charm so many of us love.

Egg Rolls with a Sweet-Spicy Mustard

No matter how much things change in T or C, we can almost be assured of one thing: Los Arcos Steakhouse and Bar will remain unchanged.  Launched in 1970, Los Arcos remains what Los Angeles Magazine called “a 70s-style monument to surf and turf.”  The restaurant and its menu may be an anachronism, but great service and hospitality are timeless and the true secret to the longevity and success of Los Arcos.  It’s no wonder that for more than four decades, it’s earned a reputation as a favorite stop between El Paso and Albuquerque. 

Even in the 1970s, the Los Arcos menu would be unique for its variety.  You no longer have to step back in time to find such appetizers as oysters Rockefeller, shrimp cocktail, shrimp won tons and fried veggie platters.  Steaks are aged and trimmed by the staff.  Several beef combinations are available with fresh seafood: Australian lobster tails, king crab and two prawns.  Other seafood and fresh-water options include herb-crusted catfish, Indonesian shrimp and Walleye Pike deep-fried in beer batter.

Baby Back Ribs: Mesquite Smoked with Orange Pecan BBQ Sauce

28 September 2014: Not necessarily an anachronism, but still somewhat rare within appetizer menus are old-fashioned egg rolls, the type of which are standard in Chinese restaurants.  Two golden-hued egg rolls per order are accompanied by a sweet-spicy mustard with all the benefits of sweet and sour sauce with the eye-watering kick of hot mustard.  The egg rolls are engorged with vegetables as is usually the case in Chinese restaurants. 

5 March 2004: The “Los Arcos Specialties” menu is a sort of catch-all of entrees which aren’t steak or seafood.  You’ll find baby back ribs, chicken, a shrimp and chicken and a smoked pork loin.  Also available are the unique pairings of a charbroiled filet topped with green chili (SIC) and Mornay sauce as well as a filet topped with crab and Bernaise.  The smoked pork loin is a thick-cut steak about four inches around and about three inches tall.  It’s tender, tasty and served with honey mustard and applesauce. 

Mud Pie

28 September 2014: Another Los Arcos specialty are the baby back ribs which are mesquite smoked with an orange pecan barbecue sauce.  The orange-pecan sauce doesn’t have the citrus properties you might expect.  In fact, it’s rather sweet with smoky notes.  A full rack of ribs is meal enough for two.  These baby backs are at the opposite extreme of of the “fall off-the-bone” ribs which often denote being overdone.  In fact, you need a knife to separate and cut each rib and extricate the pork which isn’t as tender as we like our ribs.

28 September 2014:   The highlight of our two visits has been Los Arcos’ Mud Pie, an Oreo cookie crust topped with coffee ice cream, chocolate fudge, whipped cream and almonds.  It’s an excellent dessert, especially if you love coffee-flavored sweet treats.  The Mud Pie is a coalescence of ingredients which go very well together to create a very satisfying dessert you may not want to share. 

Los Arcos remains a timeless classic that continues to win over generations of diners with its combination of great service and solid food.  Time will tell if it becomes a favorite of Truth or Consequences space tourists.

Los Arcos Steakhouse & Bar
1400 North Date Street
Truth or Consequences, New Mexico
(575) 894-6200
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 28 September 2014
1st VISIT: 5 March 2004
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Baby Back Ribs, Smoked Pork Loin, Mud Pie

Los Arcos Steak & Lobster on Urbanspoon

Happy Belly Deli – Truth or Consequences, New Mexico (CLOSED)

The Happy Belly Deli in Truth or Consequences

One of the inevitable truths about life is that the sins of our youth will revisit us in our middle age and beyond. We feel it especially in the morning when every bone in our bodies aches as we struggle to get out of bed. That’s also when we’re most reminded that what doesn’t hurt no longer works, that the spring in our step has been replaced by a creak in our knees and that our backs go out more often than we do. It’s then that we regret our youthful impetuousness and perceived immortality.

My friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate and the most energetic septuagenarian I know, gave me this advice: “go south, young man.” More precisely, he advised going to Truth or Consequences to luxuriate in the healing waters of the city’s hot springs. For some 12,000 years, the city’s geothermal hot mineral waters have been frequented for their restorative powers. Even Apache warrior Geronimo brought his wounded men to the waters so they could heal from battle.

The patio at the Happy Belly Deli

Truth or Consequences (“T or C” to most New Mexicans) has long been a popular destination for snowbirds, tourists and those of us who love its salubrious waters. Water is also a popular draw for recreation seekers who frequent Elephant Butte Lake, the largest and most popular lake in the Land of Enchantment. The 40-mile long reservoir is especially popular during the Memorial Day weekend when the number of visitors approaches 100,000 or the population equivalent of what would be New Mexico’s second largest city.

Unlike Santa Fe and Albuquerque, T or C has not, however, been widely regarded by cognoscenti as a dining destination, most of its eateries being considered “small town good.” That’s not a bad thing by any stretch. While most small towns restaurants in New Mexico may not provide exciting, cutting edge dining, they generally make up for it with consistent “stick to your ribs” comfort food favorites served in homey milieus by attentive and friendly servers who make you feel right at home. Nearly forty independent and chain restaurants operate within the city

Friday and Saturday are Pizza Nights at the Happy Belly Deli. Here’s a Green Chile Philly (Philly steak, mushrooms, green chile and onions)

Many of T or C’s best restaurants are within easy walking distance of the historic bathhouse district which means that after a relaxing session of letting your stress melt away and your body detoxify, you can saunter over for a leisurely meal. One of the city’s most popular eateries is the aptly named Happy Belly Deli, mere feet away from the Fire Water Lodge where hot mineral water tubs are available in most rooms. Only a patio separates the 50’s style motor court Lodge and its guest rooms from the Deli.

That patio is a haven for hungry diners and their four-legged children. It’s also a favorite gathering place for people who appreciate discussing, debating and deliberating the topic of the day with other close proximity diners, whether they’re like-minded or not. Starlings like it, too, recognizing that most diners will toss them a  crumb or two. Larry believes the Happy Belly Deli serves the best breakfast in T or C.

A chocolate croissant and a chocolate chip cookie

If the pizza is any indication, lunch and dinner must be pretty good, too.  Friday and Saturday are pizza nights at the Happy Belly Deli.  The pizza menu showcases six specialty pizzas and a build-your-own-pizza option in which you can select from among a number of ingredients (pepperoni, sausage, ham, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, green pepper, artichoke hearts, green chile, spinach, black olives, pineapple, jalapeños, pepperoncinis and basil.  Two sizes–medium and large–are available as are dinner salad and garlic knots appetizers.

The Green Chile Philly pizza is a thin-crusted canvas topped with Philly steak, mushrooms, green chile and onions topped by melted mozzarella.  It’s a good pizza–bordering on greatness were it not so salty and if the chile had just a bit more bite.  The sauce is ladled on thickly and has more of an oregano influence than it does garlic.  The Philly steak is apportioned generously and the mushrooms are fresh and perfectly prepared.

Green chile bagel with egg and cheese

Pastries are even better than the pizza, especially the chocolate croissant (Pain au chocolat for mon amis Francophile).  It’s a light, flaky and buttery croissant roll filled with enough chocolate to leave a lip-smacking chocolate mustache.  The intrepid bakers also create a wondrous raspberry cheese filled croissant warranting a few lip smacks of its own.  My Kim prefers the chocolate chip cookies which are also quite good.

Breakfast on the patio means coffee, even if the temperature threatens to visit triple digits.  The coffee is Red Rock Roasters Premium Coffee out of Albuquerque.  Three pots of coffee are brewed, each a different gourmet blend.  You’ll pour your own coffee, as much as you want…and you will want lots of it, especially the piñon coffee.  Native New Mexicans love piñon almost as much as we love chile.  This coffee truly is the best part of waking up.

Kielbasa Scramble: Kielbasa, potatoes, scrambled eggs, red and green peppers and onions with two pieces of sourdough bread toast

If you stay at the Fire Water Lodge, you’ll receive a coupon for a complimentary bagel with egg and cheese or a six dollar equivalent.  Other bathhouse district motels may provide similar coupons.  The bagels are chewy and thick with several varieties available.  Naturally my choice was a green chile bagel stuffed with lightly salted scrambled eggs and melted cheese.  With a bit more piquancy, the green chile bagel would have been even better, but I’m looking a gift horse in the mouth here.

A much more substantial breakfast is a Kielbasa Scramble, a hearty eater’s feast of potatoes, scrambled eggs, red and green peppers, onions and several slices of kielbasa served with two pieces of toast (your choice of rye, wheat, white and sourdough).  This is an excellent breakfast providing a terrific interplay of strong and subdued flavors.  Among the former are the kielbasa and the red and green peppers which go very well with the eggs and potatoes.  This breakfast is easily large enough for two.

Two pancakes

An even larger breakfast includes two eggs, home fries, toast, a side of two pancakes and your choice of chorizo, bacon or sausage.   The entree-sized pancakes (certainly not a “short stack) are noteworthy, two fluffy orbs covering most of the plate.  Syrup is out of small plastic tubs so it’s not heated.  That’s a nit because the pancakes themselves are steaming and delicious.

The Happy Belly Deli wait staff is an energetic and attentive bunch, some coiffed in colors matching their tie dye attire.  The breakfast guests in particular are an eclectic lot.  Sit on the porch and you’ll be in close proximity to your neighbors so it pays to be an extrovert–or to have two beautiful dachshunds with you.   In no time you’ll be engaging in neighborly discourse, no topic taboo.  It’s spirited and it’s fun, one of the many charms of dining at this truly terrific restaurant.  From an experiential perspective, it’s one of the state’s best.

Happy Belly Deli
313 N Broadway St
Truth Or Consequences, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 17 June 2012
1st VISIT: 15 June 2012
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Philly Pizza, Green Chile Bagel with Egg and Cheese, Chocolate Croissant, Chocolate Chip Cookie, Kielbasa Scramble, Pancakes

Happy Belly Deli on Urbanspoon

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