The Luna Mansion Landmark Steakhouse – Los Lunas, New Mexico

The Luna Mansion Landmark Steakhouse for the best in fine dining in Los Lunas

New Mexico is truly a dichotomous land, a state in which seemingly contrasting qualities exist in symbiotic harmony with each other. While most of those contrasts exist spectacularly in nature, the Land of Enchantment’s architecture is no stranger to contradictions. One such example is the Luna Mansion, a stately manor built in the Southern Colonial architectural style, but whose basic construction material is adobe. The Luna Mansion was built in 1880 by the Santa Fe Railroad Company in exchange for right-of-way through lands owned by the Luna family. In the 1920s, the Luna-Otero family added to the grandeur of the Los Lunas showcase by building a front portico and grand solarium. White Grecian columns bid all visitors welcome.

In the 1970s, the Luna Mansion was transformed into a restaurant, perhaps rankling the ire of Josefita Otero, one of the original family members to dwell in the Mansion. Her apparition, attired in 1920s regalia, began to appear. Several other apparitions, including Cruz, a groundskeeper, are said to haunt the restaurant while others have been seen or felt on the grounds of the estate. Perhaps they continue to visit the Luna Mansion for the food.

One of the first floor dining rooms

While Auld Lang Syne faded with the dawning of 2009, the Luna Mansion was put up for sale by Earl Whittemore who had owned the property for more than three decades. It wasn’t for sale for long. Fittingly, the Mansion was purchased by Pete and Hortencia Torres, longtime owners of the Wittwer House, another historic property converted to a restaurant (the award-winning Teofilo’s Restaurante). Moreover, the Torres family has a restaurant pedigree in Valencia County that goes back more than six decades. Pete’s parents opened the eponymous Pete’s Cafe in 1948. Teofilo’s is directly across Main Street from the Luna Mansion, now a registered national historic landmark.

Under the auspices of the Torres family, the Luna Mansion remains a monument to the way good food used to be served in bygone days before America became a fast food nation, back when hearty portions of delicious cuisine could be enjoyed in a relaxing milieu. Though not by design, the restaurant brings to mind the clean, elegant Harvey House restaurants which introduced a touch of refinement and civility to an untamed frontier while serving good food at reasonable prices throughout the Old West. There’s a Harvey House a few miles south in Belen though it no longer serves food.

Sourdough bread

The Luna Mansion name is now appended by “Landmark Steakhouse,” a recognition of its historic place in the community as well as the Torres family commitment to providing a memorable fine dining experience for their patrons. As the name implies, the specialty of the house is USDA prime beef aged 21 days for flavor and tenderness and hand-carved by local butchers exclusively for the Luna Mansion. The menu also offers fresh fish, seafood and poultry. Several menu items popularized during the tenure of previous owners have been retained (including one of my favorite desserts) while New Mexican chile inspired items no longer have a place on the daily menu.

The nattily attired and attentive Luna Mansion wait staff is as energetic as any in the Duke City area, but with a small town neighborliness you don’t often find in the big city. They’ll be happy to engage you in small talk or discuss the history of the Mansion if you wish, but they’re also professional enough to leave you alone if that be your preference. Best of all, they’re always on-the-spot with hard-crusted sourdough bread and soft butter as well as ice water or your beverage of choice. The sourdough isn’t baked on the premises, but it’s served warm and is replenished faithfully.

The Maytag Wedge: Crisp iceberg lettuce layered with bleu cheese dressing, crumbled Maytag bleu cheese, chopped tomato and crisp bacon

This appetizer menu includes some traditional (some might say anachronistic) steakhouse starters such as shrimp cocktail, Oysters Rockefeller and calamari, but throws in shrimp wontons as a surprising change of pace. These wontons aren’t your typical desiccated dumplings fried to a crackling, crunchy and empty shell. These are roughly the size of a beverage coaster and stuffed with a generous bounty of cream cheese, green onion and shrimp. Best of all, they’re served with a jalapeño sweet and sour sauce that packs a punch. The calamari are small ringlets of squid goodness–not too chewy or too thickly coated. The accompanying cocktail sauce is packed with a potent horseradish.

31 May 2012: The menu also offers a Maytag Wedge constructed from crisp iceberg lettuce layered with bleu cheese dressing, crumbled Maytag bleu (sic) cheese, chopped tomato and crisp bacon. As a bleu (or blue) cheese aficionado who routinely asks servers to bring me as much bleu cheese as they can carry, it does my heart good (only figuratively) to see the generous dollops of my favorite salad dressing. Maytag blue cheese has been hand-formed and cave-aged since 1941 and is one of the most flavorful of all bleu (or blue) cheeses. The other salad components are quite good, but it’s the pungent cheese that stars here.

A 24-ounce Porterhouse steak (21 day aged beef hand-carved by local butchers exclusively for the Luna Mansion

You might not consider Los Lunas (or anywhere in landlocked New Mexico) a destination for seafood, but the Luna Mansion might just change your mind. Daily offerings include two lobster tails, tipping the scales at about a pound, at market price. There’s also a pound or pound and a half of sweet, juicy Alaskan King Crab also at market price. A long-time restaurant favorite is the Mansion Steak, a six ounce filet smothered by crab meat and Béarnaise sauce. Both the filet and the crab are good in their own right, but don’t necessarily combine all their best qualities when paired together.

31 May 2012: The purity of beefy deliciousness is best exemplified by the 24-ounce Porterhouse steak, as good a prime cut of beef as we’ve had in the Albuquerque area. It is prepared to your exacting specifications (at medium, it’s got that pinkish center that ensures juiciness and flavor) and is seasoned with exactly the right amount of sea salt, pepper and garlic. This beauteous beef has marbling for flavor, but not much of the excess fat you cut out and leave on your plate. As with other entrees, steaks are accompanied by your choice of potato (a fully loaded baked potato, French fries or whipped Yukon Gold potatoes). The baked potato is perfectly cooked all the way through and is roughly the size of a child’s football.

Lamb chops with creamed spinach in the background

31 May 2012: Another spectacular plate features four lollipop (what lamb rib chops are called when they’re “Frenched” (when the meat is cut away from the end of a rib or chop, so that part of the bone is exposed)) lamb chops served with mint sauce. Lamb chops essentially come with a built-in “handle” which makes them easy to pick up and eat (yes, even at a fine dining restaurant). Each lamb chop is pert and petite, but it’s packed with flavor and is very tender. When asked the degree of “doneness” for your chops, it’s best to leave it to the chef’s discretion. Most chefs prepare lamb chops by broiling, grilling or pan-searing them for only a few minutes on each side. At medium, the Luna Mansion lamb chops are moist and delicious.

19 July 2015: The Luna Mansion set the bar very high, hosting the inaugural brunch venture for the discerning and culinary savvy Friends of Gil (FOG).  Ten of us convened at the historical gem to enjoy a sumptuous repast that included a prime rib breakfast burrito.  Engorged with scrambled eggs and grilled prime rib topped with red chile, it’s a Cadillac of breakfast burritos in a neighborhood of Chevys.  This burrito was served with French fries, a surprising departure from the usual hash browns.

Prime Rib Burrito

The menu offers several “sides including creamed spinach, steamed asparagus, sauteed garlic spinach, whipped Yukon Gold potatoes, sauteed mushrooms, baked potato and French fries. The creamed spinach is a winner thanks to the infusion of intensely garlicky heavy cream playing off the natural acerbic qualities of the spinach. The cream is a bit on the watery side, but is good enough to sop up with the restaurant’s sourdough bread.

19 July 2015: It’s not every brunch that allows guests to also select from the dinner menu.  The only concession at Luna Mansion is that baked potatoes aren’t available until after five.  If you’re having the pasta, you don’t need another carb anyway.  You might not even miss out on the Mansion’s magnificent meats.  That is if the fettuccine with a red chile cream sauce and sirloin tips is on the menu.  First, the pasta is perfectly prepared if your ideal is neither mushy nor al dente.  The red chile cream sauce is rich and delicious with just enough piquancy to be discernible, but not so much that it tastes like another New Mexican dish showcasing our enchanting chile (great as it is).  The sirloin tips are a highlight, a reminder that the Luna Mansion serves some of the very best steak in the area.

Fettuccine with Red Chile Cream Sauce and Sirloin Tips

31 May 2012: Only three desserts–the Mansion Mud Pie, classic cheesecake and housemade key lime pie–grace the menu, but savvy diners look no further than the Mansion Mud Pie, one of my favorite desserts in the area. The foundation for the pie is a thick Oreo crust which is topped with about two inches of mocha flavored ice cream, a chocolate ganache and whipped cream garnished with almond slivers. This is a pie for the ages, a pie I might haunt the Luna Mansion for someday.

The Mansion Mud Pie, a Luna Mansion specialty

The Luna Mansion has long been one of Valencia county’s culinary crown jewels, but it’s good enough to warrant mention among the most highly regarded fine dining establishments in the metropolitan Duke City area.

The Luna Mansion Landmark Steakhouse
Highway 6 & Highway 85
Los Lunas, New Mexico
505-865-7333
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 19 July 2015
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 23
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET: Mud Pie, Shrimp Wontons, The Maytag Wedge, Porterhouse, Lamb Chops

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Teofilo’s Restaurante – Los Lunas, New Mexico

Teofilo’s Restaurante on Main Street in Los Lunas

Several years ago award-winning Albuquerque Journal columnist Leslie Linthicum (since retired) penned a wonderfully evocative column entitled “Spanish Names Fade into History.”  Leslie observed that if you frequent the obituaries, especially those published on the Journal North and Journal Santa Fe, you may have observed  and lamented the passing of another great Spanish name.   The lyrical names with which the scions of Coronado were christened–Leocaida, Elfido, Trinidad, Pacomio, Seralia, Evilia, Amadea, Aureliano and others– have become increasingly rare in the Land of Enchantment. 

Leslie noted that “just about every day in New Mexico, another great old Spanish name passes on as a family loses a viejo.”   Former state historian Estevan Rael-Gálvez believes the disfavor which has befallen once-honored given names can largely be attributed to  “the stigma against the use of the Spanish language, which stretched from the 1940s into the 1980s.”   It’s a shameful stigma that “extended into many families as they welcomed babies into the world.”

One of the capacious dining rooms at Teofilo’s

Today, instead of bestowing their children with such culturally-rooted names as Prudencio, Malya, Natividad, Onofre, Celso, Andreita, Ramoncita and Piedad, young New Mexican parents tend to favor more “homogeneous” names as Noah, Elijah, Jacob, Aiden, Daniel, Jayden, Josiah, Ethan and Michael for boys and Sophia, Emma, Isabella, Olivia, Emily, Sofia, Ariana, Ava and Abigail for girls. According to the state Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics, in 2014, the most popular names for newborns in New Mexico were Liam for boys and Mia for girls followed by the aforementioned names. Coronado would not recognize these names.

Salsa and Chips

Having grown up daily hearing the mellifluous and traditional Spanish names of a bygone era, I can now appreciate their distinctively melodic qualities and like Leslie, mourn the passing of friends, relatives and strangers alike who brought honor to those names.  It makes me cringe when young Hispanos mispronounce (butcher would be a more appropriate term) names those of my generation hold sacrosanct.  Because their own parents were taught to eschew Spanish, it’s entirely inappropriate to blame young Hispanos for any linguistic malapropisms.

Breakfast Quesadilla (Cheddar-Jack Cheese, Avocado, Bacon) with Papitas

Leslie recalls the appropriate recitation of these names by former state historian Estevan Rael-Gálvez as “somewhere between a poem and a lullaby.”  Were she to visit Teofilo’s Restaurante in Los Lunas, Leslie would probably first celebrate the perpetuation of a time-honored, traditional Spanish name on the restaurant’s marquee.  She would probably then shudder the first and subsequent times she heard a server answer the phone “Tio Philo’s.”   Servers aren’t the only ones employing this aberrant mispronunciation, but even more than their customers, they darned well should know better. 

Guacamole and Chips

That not everyone in the village of Los Lunas can correctly pronounce the name Teofilo is probably attributable to the fact everyone calls Pete “Teofilo” Torres, Jr. by his first name.  Everyone in Valencia county pronounces the Torres name correctly and with a bit of reverence.   To put it mildly, the dynastic Torres family is restaurant royalty in Valencia County. In 1949, Pete Jr.’s father and mother Elijia (another melodic New Mexican name) founded the legendary Pete’s Café in Belen, which (ask Arnold Schwarzenegger) is still going strong.  In 1986, Pete, Jr., and his wife Hortencia (more music to my ears) launched Teofilo’s in Los Lunas. 

T’s Huevos in a Bowl (Blue Corn Tortilla topped with papitas, T’s red chile carne adovada, two over-medium eggs, chile, Cheddar-Jack cheese piled high in a bowl

Teofilo’s is situated on Main Street where it faces the historic Luna Mansion which Pete, Jr. purchased in 2009.  Both are historic properties.  The venerable complex which houses Teofilo’s dates from 1913.  It was built for Doctor W.F. Wittwer who was enticed to stay in Los Lunas for the princely sum of fifty dollars per month.  The distinctively old New Mexican architectural design showcases period-specific architecture, including terron (thick slabs of earth rather than adobes) walls and a high-pitched, corrugated tin roof. 

Step into Teofilo’s and you’re not only walking into history, you’re walking into a warm and beckoning interior with period pieces throughout.  It’s akin to walking into someone’s home and in a very real sense, you are.  The small waiting room, which is often standing room only, includes a number of black-and-white photos of Doctor Wittwer and his family.  There are a number of small dining rooms, the most popular of which is probably the enclosed porch area where historic artwork festoons the wall.  The east-facing windows let in both heat and sunlight.

Red Chile Carne Adovada on Blue Corn Tortillas with refritos and arroz

You’ll also find plenty of heat on the salsa.  The salsa is a rich red jalapeno-based salsa with as much heat as it has flavor. Your first serving of salsa is complementary. After that there’s a small charge. Freshness, flavor, piquancy and a little bit of smokiness are hallmarks of the very best salsas and this one ranks near the very top, among the very best in New Mexico.  Aside from jalapenos, you’ll discern the boldness of chopped onions, fresh cilantro and naturally sweet and absolutely delicious crushed tomatoes. The chips are over-sized and delicious with little salt to get in the way of your taste buds enjoying them with a scoopful of the salsa.

15 March 2015: Rather than lamenting Sunday as the day preceding the start of a new workweek, savvy diners in Los Lunas and beyond celebrate Sunday as the day in which Teofilo’s offers a Sunday breakfast menu unlike any in the area. Available only from 9AM until 2PM, this is a Sunday breakfast the good doctor would have ordered. Start with a breakfast quesadilla (Cheddar-Jack cheese, avocado and bacon) with a side of papitas. It’s not only a good way to obtain another portion of salsa, it’s a way to treat yourself to as good a quesadilla as you’ll find anywhere. You’ll love the way the buttery richness of the sliced avocadoes, sharpness of the Cheddar and smokiness of the bacon nestled within a grilled flour tortilla all combine to form an eye-opening, mouth-watering flavor combination. The lightly-sheened papitas are thinly sliced and are fried to perfection.

Chile Rellenos

15 March 2015: If the breakfast quesadilla doesn’t have you praying for Sunday, T’s Huevos in a Bowl (blue corn tortilla topped with papitas, T’s red chile carne adovada, two over-medium eggs, chile, Cheddar-Jack cheese piled high in a bowl) certainly will. At first glance, T’s Huevos in a Bowl might appear to be a gloppy, cheesy mess, but as your fork peels back layer-upon-layer of concordant flavors, you won’t care what it looks like. To your taste buds, this is a masterpiece, a convergence of ingredients that complement one another very well. The carne adovada is among the very best in New Mexico. It’s silky smooth porcine perfection marinated slowly in a superb red chile. The blue corn tortilla has a sweet, nutty flavor that plays off the sharpness of the cheese very well. 

26 April 2015: In Old Mexico, mention chiles rellenos and the likely reply will probably be “Que rico!, a lustful expression declaring how very good chiles rellenos are.  New Mexicans aren’t quite as expressive about our chiles rellenos, but we love them no less.  Perhaps we’d be more prone to rhapsodizing enthusiastically if all chiles rellenos were as wonderful as those served at Teofilo’s.  These chiles rellenos are in rarefied company in a small pantheon of great New Mexican chiles rellenos.  At first glance, the coating around the New Mexico green chile stuffed with cheese might have you thinking Panko breadcrumbs, but one bite will confirm they’re not nearly that grainy textured.  They also retain their integrity at the press of a fork.  Each forkful rewards you with chile, cheese and the wondrous sheathing around the rellenos, not some crumbly mess.  Not all chiles rellenos are created equal; these are among the very best!

Stuffed Sopaipillas with Ground Beef and Refritos

15 March 2015: For many of us, enchiladas are the benchmark we use to measure just how good a New Mexican restaurant is. While they may appear rather simple in their construction, when you consider the vast diversity of ingredients with which they can be created, enchiladas can be a rather complex dish. Teofilo’s creates enchilada plates from which dreams are made. Picture a blue corn tortilla canvas topped with carne adovada and a fried egg over-easy slathered with a rich red chile and served with sides of refritos and arroz. Quite simply, Teofilo’s enchiladas are poster child quality, as good as they can be made. “As good as it can be made” aptly describes the red chile which may tempt you to lick the plate so as not to leave any behind. 

26 April 2015: Because the sopaipillas at Teofilo’s are so good with honey, it stands to reason they’d be just as good in the form of stuffed sopaipillas.  If anything, the stuffed sopaipillas are even better, especially if they’re engorged with ground beef and refritos then slathered in rich, red chile and blanketed in molten shredded Cheddar.  As with every entree at Teofilo’s, a case could easily be made for these being among, if not the very best stuffed sopaipillas in New Mexico.  They’re also served piping hot, a serving style every New Mexican restaurant should emulate.

Sopaipillas

15 March 2015: Sopaipillas are, very often, the way most meals at New Mexican restaurants end. Most of the time, it would be criminal to consume anything after reveling in the hot, puffy pillows of dough. Doing so is generally anti-climatic. As wonderful as the sopaipillas are at Teofilo’s, you’re forgiven if you choose to indulge in one of the rich, delicious desserts. For many diners, a meal at Teofilo’s wouldn’t be complete without finishing it off with natillas. In its “Best of the City” issue for 2008, Albuquerque The Magazine named them the “best natillas,” indicating they’re “worth driving for.” These rich, creamy, cinnamon custard delights are absolutely addictive.

Award-winning Natillas

15 March 2015: If there’s one dessert which may top (yes, it’s blasphemy, I know) the natillas, it’s Teofilo’s Toledo Crème Cake, a three-layer coconut-buttermilk cake studded with pecans and thick, rich cream cheese frosting. Served Fred Flintstone slab-sized, it’s an addictively rich, calorific indulgence you’ll have to share and even so, will probably take much of it home with you. This is the type of cake few restaurants endeavor to prepare and serve any more.   Lucky for all of us, Teofilo’s isn’t like other restaurants.

Toledo Creme cake (three-layer buttermilk, pecan, coconut cake layered with cream cheese frosting)

While so many mellifluous New Mexican names are going by the wayside, we’re comforted in knowing that wonderful family restaurants such as Teofilo’s continue to prepare and serve the traditional foods of New Mexico the way they’ve been prepared for generations.  Teofilo’s is a Land of Enchantment classic!

Teofilo’s Restaurante
144 Main Street
Los Lunas, New Mexico
(505) 865-5511
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 26 April 2015
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 24
COST: $$
BEST BET: Natillas, Toledo Creme Cake, Blue Corn Enchiladas, T’s Huevos in a Bowl, Sopaipillas, Breakfast Quesadilla, Chips and Salsa, Chile Rellenos, Stuffed Sopaipillas, Guacamole and Chips

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