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Bodega Burger Co. & Lounge – Socorro, New Mexico

Bodega Burger Co. & Lounge in Socorro, New Mexico

“A Hamburger is warm and fragrant and juicy.
A hamburger is soft and non-threatening.
It personifies the Great Mother herself,
who has nourished us from the beginning.
A hamburger is an icon of layered circles,
the circle being at once the most spiritual
and the most sensual of shapes.
A hamburger is companionable and faintly erotic:
the nipple of the Goddess, the bountiful belly-ball of Eve.”

~Tom Robbins

Hamburgers have long been the apotheosis of comfort food deliciousness and the favorite food of the masses.  Regardless of socioeconomic strata, burgers are enjoyed by nearly one and all–to the tune of some 38 billion per year in the United States alone.  That’s three per week on average for every man, woman and child.  Add in the burger consumption outside the fruited plain and burgers are in rarefied company, placing them among the most popular food phenomenon in the entire world. 

Culinary experts will tell you the reason for the popularity of burgers can be attributed to three factors: simplicity, convenience and diversity (there’s no limit to how you can dress a burger, if you choose to dress it at all). Shouldn’t great taste factor in there somewhere?  Apparently we don’t love burgers because they taste great?  What about cost? Burgers have traditionally been a relatively inexpensive food affordable to most diners.

The Bodega Burger: American Cheese, Smoked Bacon, Locally Grown Chile Served on a Brioche Bun

As the downtrodden economy seems to have shown, burgers might truly be “recession proof.”  Though Americans may deny themselves many of life’s other luxuries, we won’t give up (or cut down on) our burgers.  Nor will we settle on cheap, inferior burgers.  The burgers which have made the most significant inroads in the 100 billion dollar a year burger market are the pricier, premium patties and their sundry upscale ingredients.  It’s what carnivorous Americans crave.

In Socorro county, two eateries–the Owl Cafe and the Buckhorn Tavern–have had the burger market cornered for generations.  While the Owl Cafe and the Buckhorn Tavern have established reputations across the fruited plain for their no-frills but extremely high quality and thoroughly delicious burger offerings, the Bodega Burger Co. & Lounge which launched in 2011 is giving Socorro area diners an alternative burger with no compromise in quality or deliciousness.

Mountain Man Burger: A blend of Venison, Buffalo, Wild Boar, Antelope and Elk Topped with Barbecue Sauce, Smoked Jalapeños, Cheddar Cheese, Tomato, Lettuce

Calling itself an “upscale burger joint,” a seeming contradiction in terms, the Bodega Burger Co. is taking a gourmet twist approach to its burgers, serving an impressive array of unique specialty burgers all crafted with  New Mexico Angus beef.   Perhaps the most unique is the Green Egg and Ham burger made with green chile, fried egg and bacon with chorizo con queso on a brioche bun.  The burger line-up also includes three non-beef burgers–black bean veggie burger, smoked salmon burger and crispy shrimp burger–in addition to a low-carb burger on which a large portobello mushroom cap takes the place of a conventional bun.

If you’re the mad scientist type who likes to experiment with unique ingredient combinations, the Bodega’s “create your own burger” option truly lets you “have it your way.”  You can choose your patty, bun, sauce, cheese and toppings.  All burgers come with lettuce, tomatoes, onion and pickle as well as your choice of fries, side salad or one of the menu’s sides (which include two rolled-up enchiladas).  There are four fries options, too: shoestring fries, fat fries, buttermilk zucchini fries and sweet potato waffle fries.  If you’re not in the mood for burgers, sandwich options are plentiful.

Prime Rib Sandwich with Housemade Potato Chips

15 June 2012: The restaurant’s signature burger is the eponymous Bodega Burger (American cheese, smoked bacon and green chile).  It becomes immediately obvious why a brioche bun is used instead of a conventional burger bun.  This is one juicy burger, emphasis on moist in a very good way.  The patty is a well seasoned and thoroughly delicious slab of New Mexico beef.  The locally grown green chile isn’t especially piquant, but it has a nice roasted flavor that complements the smoked bacon especially well. 

15 June 2012: The featured burger special during our inaugural visit was the Mountain Man Burger, a blend of venison, buffalo, wild boar, antelope and elk topped with barbecue sauce, smoked jalapeños, Cheddar cheese, tomato and lettuce.  The lean, full-flavored meat blend is unique in New Mexico and not something I thought would be especially flavorful considering the heavy lean to fat ratio, but this turned out to be a very good burger even though the smoked jalapeños and barbecue sauce may have detracted from the flavor of the beef just a bit.  It’s a burger that deserves a permanent place on the menu.

Smoked Salmon Quesadilla

28 September 2014: Perhaps even better than the aforementioned burgers is the Bodega’s Prime Rib Sandwich, thinly-slices steak topped with Provolone, caramelized onions and creamy horseradish served on a Ciabbata roll with au jus.  The combination of eye-watering creamy horseradish and sweet caramelized onions complement the whisper-thin steak and salty Provolone perfectly.  The au jus is formidable enough to allow liberal dipping into the au jus, a thin, meaty broth with great flavor.

Bodega, a Spanish word for wine shop, lives up to its name with offerings you don’t have to be an oenophile to appreciate.  New Mexico wineries–St. Clair, Lescombes, Black Mesa and Gruet–are showcased, but wines from France, Chile, Australia and California are also available in such varieties as reds, whites, sparkling to dessert wines.  

If your inclination is to turn your nose up at the prospect of or to be skeptical about burger and wine pairings, you need not be.  Food & Wine advises that the type of meat determines the best wine match (unless the burger is smothered in strong-flavored condiments).   Don’t fret if you’re still not sold on burger and wine pairings.  Bodega’s menu is no one-trick pony.  In fact, it’s got one of the most delightfully diverse menus you’ll find in the Socorro area, comparable in diversity to that of the Socorro Springs Brewing Company

Tapas, soups and salads occupy the first page of the menu.  The tapas are an array of the type of starters popular throughout the Land of Enchantment, some with a gourmet twist: smoked salmon quesadilla, buffalo-lime chicken wings, cheese steak empanadas.  Your soup soiree can consist of either lobster bisque or a soup-of-the-day.  Salads range from the inventive (prickly pear) to the classic Caesar and a garden salad. 

28 September 2014: The Smoked Salmon Quesadilla (caramelized onions, chipotle peppers, Jack cheese inside a grilled tortilla) is one of the more intriguing of the available tapas.  Alas, the penurious amount of salmon (guppy-sized) and the crispiness of the quesadilla make this sandwich more reminiscent of the “cheese crisps” which are so popular in Arizona’s Mexican restaurants.  The very best quesadillas aren’t necessarily engorged with fillings, but what they’re stuffed with is more plentiful than we found on this smoked salmon quesadilla.  The accompanying salsa was quite good with a nice level of piquancy to it.

Upscale applies to the dinner menu, (served after 4PM) too.  Steaks, fish, chicken and chops are featured fare for dinner, all reasonably priced.  It especially does my heart good to see another restaurant serving fried chicken.  The Bodega’s rendition is flour-dusted, pan seared poultry with a creamy pecan sauce.  Steak options include prime rib, a boneless ribeye, aged New York strip and Angus Filet Mignon.

In May, 2012, Travel & Leisure magazine rated America’s best burger cities.  As is often the case, the list included mostly medium to large population centers which offer a large variety of burger options.  Had the burger rating been based on burger greatness per capita, Socorro county might have well been in the mix, especially now with the addition of the Bodega Burger Co. & Lounge.

Bodega Burger Co. & Lounge
606 N California Street
Socorro, New Mexico
575-838-2087
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 28 September 2014
1st VISIT: 15 June 2012
# of VISITS: 2
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Mountain Man Burger, Buttermilk Onion Rings, Bodega Burger, Housemade Potato Chips, Prime Rib Sandwich, Salmon Quesadilla

Bodega Burger Co & Lounge on Urbanspoon

Socorro Springs Brewing Company – Socorro, New Mexico

Socorro Springs Brewing Company

Socorro, New Mexico is a dichotomous town.  It is the second oldest inhabited community in our culturally blessed Land of Enchantment, yet it boasts one of the nation’s premier research universities.   It is steeped in history and tradition, inextricably linked to its storied past while embracing the technologies which are laying the groundwork for future peace and prosperity.

Socorro, it seems, is also a “jumping off” point to other destinations.  It is within minutes of the Bosque del Apache National Life Refuge where 12,900 acres of boggy bottomlands host tens of thousands of ducks, Canadian geese and Sandhill cranes, transient visitors which make their annual trek to this winter habitat.  It is scant miles away from the Trinity Site where the first atomic bomb was detonated in 1945.

Chips and salsa at the Socorro Springs Brewery

Chips and salsa at the Socorro Springs Brewery

If culinary tarriance is what you seek in your sojourns throughout the Land of Enchantment, Socorro probably isn’t at the top (or perhaps anywhere near) of your list.  In fact, among  some savvy southbound foodies, Socorro is just the town you pass on your way to San Antonio, home of the world-famous Owl Cafe, the becoming just as famous Manny’s Buckhorn Tavern and the deserving of fame San Antonio General Store.

One restaurant is slowly changing that perception.  The Socorro Springs Brewing Company is quickly establishing a reputation as a destination restaurant, a reason to get off I25 and pause for a good meal.  It is a rarity in a town facing the incursion of corporate chains and the aging of hometown restaurants in timeworn edifices.  It is a multihued swath of color in a monochrome town.

Spinach and Artichoke Dip with Cheddar Batard Loaf

The Socorro Springs Brewing Company just may be the town’s version of Cheers, a pub and restaurant all the locals visit and ostensibly, a local tavern in which everyone knows your name.  Get there on a Friday or Saturday night and you just may have to wait for a seat to come open.   Most of the cars in the parking lot bear New Mexico, U.S.A. license plates, but you’ll also espy plates from other states not nearly as enchanting.

The walls in the back dining room are festooned with amazing  framed prints taken at El Bosque del Apache.  There’s something remarkably calming about being backdropped by the imagery of majestic birds in flight and at play in one of the state’s natural treasures.  The cynosure of the main dining room is the large wood-fire oven fired with pecan wood grown in the Rio Grande Valley.  Pecan is a very clean and hot burning wood that imparts a slightly sweet and nutty flavor that you’ll be able to discern on the pizza.

Thin crust pizza at Socorro Springs

El Cerdo (Red chile marinated pork loin thinly sliced with locally grown red chile sauce, Capicola ham, Cheddar-Jack cheese, Roma tomatoes, scallions, black olives topped with fresh cilantro

The Socorro Springs Brewing Company is a full service restaurant with an on-the-premises brewery whose ales and lagers have earned accolades and awards from aficionados of adult beverages.  If your tastes in beer lean toward sarsaparilla, you’ll love the home brewed root beer.  It’s an adult root beer–not too sweet or acidic with a nice herbal bouquet.  It’s a better root beer than you’ll find at Albuquerque’s Il Vicino restaurant which also brews its own.  It may even be better than the root beer at Rio Rancho’s Turtle Mountain Brewing Company.  Don’t just take my word for it.  Read what Luke’s Root Beer reviews have to say.

The menu is surprisingly sophisticated with entrees ranging from wood-fired gourmet pizza or calzones to hand-cut rib eye steaks grilled over a 100 percent pecan wood-fired grill.  The restaurant’s mission is to offer the absolute best dining experience at an affordable price in a casual yet classy environment.  Mission accomplished!

The Black and Bleu (Olive oil, roasted garlic, mozzarella and bleu cheese, grilled onions, mushrooms and thin sliced steak

The menu offers nightly specials and scratch-made soups of the week.  The soup might be mulligatawny, the special grilled mahi mahi.  There’s a lot of variety and creativity on the menu.  Ingredients are of surprisingly high quality.  All the restaurant’s beef is from the Buena Vista Ranch in northern New Mexico.  All ground beef is 100 percent top round.  The New York strip and Ribeye are 100 percent USDA choice or higher.

An early indication that the kitchen staff knows what it’s doing is how good the fresh made salsa with fire-roasted jalapeños is.  It’s a fresh salsa of medium piquancy and maximum flavor, a surprisingly good salsa with the invigoratingly fresh flavor combination of chopped tomatoes, onions, cilantro and fire-roasted jalapeños.  It’s served with yellow, blue and red corn tortilla chips which are lightly salted, crisp and formidable enough not to crumble under the weight of large salsa scoops.

Hawaiian Pizza: Marinara, mozzarella, pineapple and prosciutto ham.

Another excellent appetizer is the Spinach and Artichoke Dip made with a quadrumvirate of queso–four delicious cheeses: Parmesan, Feta, Brie and Cheddar-Jack as well as fresh spinach and artichokes served with a toasted Cheddar batard (a torpedo-shaped loaf of bread that is thicker and stubbier than a baguette) loaf.  The dip is thick and creamy, served at molten warmth.  The four cheese combination has a lot of personality and flavor complemented very well by the ever so slightly toasted Cheddar bread which is sliced thinly.

Wood-fired pizzas are, according to the wait staff, the most popular draw at the restaurant. It’s easy to see why. These are hand-tossed ten-inch round pizzas made with homemade dough, sauces and gourmet toppings all baked in a pecan wood-fired brick oven until “kissed by the fire.” You may want to kiss the pizza chef by the time you’re done with one of these beauties.

Penne Pasta Arrabiata

Penne Pasta Arrabiata

Just listen to the ingredients on the “El Cerdo” (translated to English as “the pig”): red chile marinated pork loin thinly sliced with locally grown red chile sauce, capicolla ham, Cheddar-Jack cheese, Roma tomatoes, scallions and black olives topped with fresh cilantro.  It’s every bit as terrific as it sounds and is on par with the gourmet pizzas served at Rio Rancho’s Turtle Mountain Brewery (and better than any pizza at the aforementioned Il Vicino).  It’s even good cold.

Also quite good is the auspiciously named Black and Blue pizza, a pie crafted with olive oil, roasted garlic, mozzarella and bleu cheese, grilled onions, mushrooms and thin sliced steak. That’s quite an ingredient line-up for quite a pizza. The spelling “bleu cheese” as opposed to “blue cheese” denotes little in terms of the actual cheese because “bleu” is simply the French spelling of “blue,” but attitudinally, it says a lot. It says Socorro Springs wants patrons to know they’re not getting some cheap, watery salad cream quality blue cheese. It makes a difference. The other ingredient stand-outs are the thinly sliced steak, kissed with just a hint of pecan-wood smoke.

Wood-Oven Lasagna (Layers of spinach, egg pasta, roasted red bell peppers, red onions, mushrooms, Canino’s Italian sausage, roasted garlic, marinara, ricotta and mozzarella. Finished with basil-pesto.

It’s not often you’ll find restaurants serving wood-oven lasagna so ordering it is a no-brainer for adventurous diners.  Socorro Springs rendition is made with layers of spinach, egg pasta, roasted red bell peppers, red onions, mushrooms, Canino’s Italian sausage, roasted garlic, marinara, ricotta and mozzarella topped with just a smear of basil-pesto.   Served the temperature of molten lava, your first impression might be of wispy steam wafting upwards or it might be of the roof of your mouth being scalded by the molten cheeses.  Let it cool off enough and you’ll be rewarded with a surprisingly good lasagna. 

There is one item on the Socorro Springs menu which hasn’t win me over.  Surprisingly it’s the restaurant’s version of a green chile cheeseburger, a beefy behemoth named the World-Famous Burger.  A half-pound patty of lean ground beef is impregnated with New Mexico green chile then grilled on the restaurant’s pecan wood-fired grill and topped with your choice of cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, red onions and pickles.  The green chile has a nice roasted flavor though it’s a bit on the mild side.  The ingredients are of high quality.  Alas, the pecan wood influence is a strong one, imparting an off-putting ashy flavor that pretty much overwhelms the entire burger.  Barbecue purists recognize that a little smoke goes a long way.  It’s a lesson which should be applied to this burger, too.

World-Famous Burger: 1/2 pound of lean ground beef, Cheddar cheese, New Mexican Green Chile right into the patty. Grilled on pecan wood-fired grill. Served with roasted potatoes

One special which just might make it onto the daily menu is the Penne Pasta Arrabiata, a word which means “angry style” due to the heat of the peppers with which it’s made.  This pasta dish is comprised of a garlic, tomato, basil and red chile sauce cooked in olive oil.  If the red chile isn’t enough for you, a small cup of red pepper flakes comes with it.   The restaurant’s rendition also includes a spicy Italian sausage and heady olives.  The highlight of this entree is the sausage, as good an Italian sausage as you can find in New Mexico.

“As good as you can find in New Mexico.”  That seems to describe several items on the menu.  It’s no wonder the Socorro Springs Brewery is starting to be mentioned alongside some of the area’s famous restaurants.  It’s another reason to visit the great small city of Socorro.

Socorro Springs Brewing Company
1012 North California Street
Socorro, New Mexico
(575) 838-0650
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 18 May 2012
1st VISIT:  13 February 2009
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET:  Root Beer, Salsa and Chips, El Cerdo, Penne Pasta Arrabiata, Wood-Oven Lasagna, Spinach & Artichoke Dip, Black and Bleu Pizza, Hawaiian Pizza

Socorro Springs Brewing Company on Urbanspoon

El Camino Family Restaurant – Socorro, New Mexico

El Camino Family Restaurant in Socorro, New Mexico

America’s oldest and longest continuously used “highway,” El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, (Spanish for the Royal Road of the Interior Land) includes a 404 mile stretch that bisects much of the Land of Enchantment  from south to north.  A large portion of that stretch is barren and desolate, one especially treacherous and dry section even designated by the Spanish conquistadores as the Jornada del Muerto, Spanish for “route of the dead man.”  For nearly 400 years–from 1598  (more than two decades before the Mayflower’s storied landing) to 1882–El Camino Real served as both a trade route and as the route taken by settlers and conquerors alike.

For four centuries, thousands of intrepid Spanish and Mexican colonists, conquering warriors and evangelizing Franciscan priests and friars alike traversed the 1,600 mile route from Mexico City as far as San Juan Pueblo, New Mexico, many founding and settling villages along the route.  The direct descendants of these bold-spirited pioneers can be found living in those villages and cities today.  Vestiges of the unique culture, language, music, legends and faith founded by their ancestors exist into the 21st century.

El Camino Family Restaurant in Socorro

Spanish explorer Don Juan de Oñate, who today is both revered and reviled, led the very first expedition of colonists into New Mexico.  Not far from the terminus of the Jornada del Muerto, Oñate’s party was aided by the Piro-speaking people of the Teypana Pueblo.  Oñate named the site Socorro, Spanish for “to give succor” or “to give aid.”  Socorro is today New Mexico’s second oldest inhabited community, a city proudly linked to its storied past and historical traditions while at the cutting edge of 21st century technologies.

For years Socorro has been regarded as a stopping point on the way to somewhere else.  Tourists have long stopped in Socorro to refuel en route to El Bosque del Apache, Magdalena, the Very Large Array (VLA) and other points north, south, east and west of the city.  Socorro has been making a concerted effort to change the perception of Socorro as solely a city on the way elsewhere by showcasing all that is available–for locals and tourists alike–in this city of approximately 9,000 residents.

The capacious interior of El Camino Family Restaurant in Socorro

Leading that charge is the Socorro County Chamber of Commerce which wisely secured the services of my friend Susan Wisdom as their web designer.  Susan has not only made the Chamber’s Web site the online home for all of its members, she has created a valuable resource for all prospective visitors.  A longtime Socorro resident, Susan has the ambassadorial qualities needed by a city aspiring to attract visitors and keep locals informed.  She’s personable, effusive…and she really knows the area’s restaurants.

Perhaps her favorite is the aptly named El Camino Family Restaurant, a true New Mexico culinary classic which opened in the early summer of 1963.  El Camino is a city institution, the perennial  choice for best coffee shop and best breakfast in annual newspaper contests voted on by Socorro residents. It has long been a haven for New Mexico Institute of Technology students who drink pots of  the restaurant’s coffee as they study into the wee hours.  The restaurant is open 24 hours a day and serves breakfast at all hours.

SW Omelet: Cheese, green chili, sausage, and mushroom

Breakfast is what Susan knows best though she’s intimately acquainted with the entire menu, having designed it herself for family friend and restaurant owner Mehrdad Moradi.  It’s a comprehensive menu serving traditional American and Mexican food, sandwiches, burgers, steaks, seafood, appetizers and even an omelet named for Susan.  That omelet is called the “SW Omelet,” which diners assume stands for “Southwest.”  Instead, “SW” stands for Susan’s initials, representing “Susan Wisdom.”  Susan special ordered this omelet so often, the restaurant put it on the menu.

Our inaugural visit to El Camino was at the wee hour of 8AM for the breakfast segment of a “Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner” article for New Mexico Magazine. At that unholy hour, the restaurant’s coffee, an invigorating blend with a fragrant aroma, really hits the spot.  You can smell that coffee and other breakfast dishes as you approach the timeworn, but very clean restaurant.  The signage, a prominent beacon on heavily trafficked California Avenue, is the original sign though an angry hailstorm (hail which grew to three-inches in diameter and struck the ground at speeds approaching 100MPH) destroyed a portion of it (since restored).

Two eggs any style, served with hash browns, grilled ham and three French toasts

The restaurant is bustling with activity in the early morning when the clinking of spoons against ceramic cups is punctuated by an enthusiastic wait staff’s cheerful greetings.  The menu, a six-page compendium of deliciousness, is delivered with your first cup of coffee.  Though I studied the menu at length, there was really only one choice for breakfast–the SW Omelet. The restaurant’s omelets are made with three eggs and are served with hash browns and toast. Cheese can be added to any omelet for a pittance.

The SW Omelet is engorged with sausage, cheese and mushrooms then topped with green chili (sic). It’s no wonder this is my friend Susan’s favorite breakfast entree.   It’s certainly all that eggs are cracked up to be! The SW Omelet is an excellent early morning picker-upper with a green chile that is more flavorful that it is piquant.  Almost resembling a “gravy,” the chile is ladled on generously atop the folded eggs.  Flecks of mushroom, sausage and green chile are seen on that “gravy,” an elixir you’ll want topping everything on your plate.  It’s what’s for breakfast in Socorro.

French toast

If a traditional American breakfast is more your early morning speed or you just want to load up on carbs for a busy day, the #6 has your name written all over it.  This behemoth breakfast features two eggs any style served with hash browns, three French toast and your choice of ham, bacon or sausage.  The slab of ham occupies about half the plate.  It has a sweet, smoky flavor that proves an excellent contrast to the thick, sweet French toast.  The eggs, prepared over easy, are quite good though they would have been even better with the restaurant’s green chile.

Intrepid diners no longer have to contend with the hardships faced by early settlers and explorers traveling the Camino Real and travelers today have several reasons to visit Socorro.  In fact, it’s worth getting there early in the morning so you can have the city’s very best breakfast at El Camino Family Restaurant.

El Camino Family Restaurant
707 California Avenue, NW
Socorro, New Mexico
(575) 835-1180
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 12 September 2010
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: 19
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: SW Omelet, French Toast

El Camino Restaurant & Lounge on Urbanspoon