The curious appellation “Tijuana Bar” dates back to the 1920s when the 18th amendment to the Constitution established Prohibition in the United States during the period 1920 to 1933. Because Prohibition forbade the sale of alcoholic beverages, many Americans got their alcohol illegally or they went to Mexico. Tijuana was a popular vacation and honeymoon destination and it happens to be where Teofilo C. Perea, Sr. and his bride honeymooned in the 1920s. The newlyweds visited a bar called the “Tijuana Bar” and decided then and there to use that name should they ever open a bar. Bureaucracy being what it is, once a license to dispense alcohol is issued, it’s very difficult to change the name on the license–hence Tijuana Bar. It fits.
Housed in one of the oldest buildings in Corrales, a 200 year plus old structure constructed of “terrones” or thick slabs of earth rather than adobes, Perea’s Tijuana bar & Restaurant doesn’t subscribe to the notion that all food served in Corrales has to be of high-brow fru-fru variety. In fact, for outstanding home-cooked New Mexican food, Perea’s is one of a handful of restaurants vying for “best restaurant” in the Duke City area. In my humble opinion and that of Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, it is in rarefied company as one of the very best New Mexican restaurants not only in the Albuquerque area, but in the state.
The operative word here is “home-cooked” as in prepared the old-fashioned way by members of the Perea family, a prominent Corrales presence for generations. T.C., the affable family patriarch who took over the restaurant operation in 1968 tended the bar until his untimely passing on June 20th, 2012. His genial son John continues to oversee the restaurant operation while either his charming wife Stella or his lovely mom prepares the traditional favorites which have made Perea’s a hugely popular dining destination.
Old-fashioned doesn’t just apply to traditional home-cooking. It’s part and parcel of the wonderful service provided to each and every guest. The Perea family is a genuinely warm and friendly bunch. Until September, 2005, perspicacious granddaughter Carina, an aspiring lawyer, waited on us during our every visit and became our favorite member of a genuinely warm and friendly family that makes each visit feel like a return home. Carina is now a mom with a degree who visits the restaurant as often as living in Bend, Oregon will allow.
Fortuitously, the vivacious Mayling Garcia just happened to be looking for a job shortly after Carina’s departure and has now become a restaurant fixture. Mayling is a rare beauty in many ways, becoming one of only thirteen people (out of six billion) in the world to play the airmonica, an instrument invented by Benjamin Franklin. Mayling’s Web site includes a video clip from her appearance on “America’s Got Talent.”
Serving lunch from 11AM to 2PM Monday through Saturday, this charming one-story adobe bar and restaurant features red chile that isn’t just red food coloring like in most restaurants; it’s ground from chile pods, flakes of which are visible on your entrees. The chile has bite without being acerbic, taste and bite without being overwhelmingly piquant (but has on occasion, been known to be hot enough to cause hiccups). Its chile is consistently among the very best chile in the Albuquerque area with the red chile usually being hotter than the green, and even when it’s not especially piquant, it’s always delicious.
Perea’s serves the best Frito Pie in New Mexico. A generous portion of beans, seasoned ground beef, that wondrous red chile and of course, Fritos corn chips is big enough for two to share, but might lead to a tableside tiff if one of you manages to abscond with a larger share of this delicious bounty. You can also have your Frito Pie made with carne adovada for an even more wonderful taste sensation. How many restaurants do you know that offer Frito pie “Christmas style” (with both red and green chile)? Perea’s does and it’s a terrific way to have your Frito pie. You can also top your Frito pie with onions and (or) sour cream.
The carne adovada plate features tender pork bathed in Perea’s red chile and served with beans and posole, an unbeatable combination. My Kim, an adovada devotee swears Perea’s version competes with the carne adovada at La Choza and at Mary & Tito’s for best in New Mexico honors. It’s a tender, shredded pork redolent with red chile flavor–pure porcine perfection for the discerning New Mexico diner. Another coveted “best” (though a case could certainly be made for the legendary El Modelo) are Perea’s tamales which also feature that oh-so-tender pork and just enough corn masa to ameliorate, not dominate the taste. This delicious entree is also available Christmas style.
The green chile cheeseburger is one of the top ten of its kind in New Mexico (ergo the universe)–even though it was somehow left off the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail. It is roughly six inches in diameter and is always garnished with the freshest ingredients–mustard, lettuce, tomato and green chile. It’s simplicity itself, but done exceptionally well. One of its many fine qualities is just how moist the beef is; there’s obviously no spatula mashing with these patties. Oh, and make sure you ask for a double-meat burger for twice the flavor. This burger is accompanied by a bag of potato chips (no fries here).
Unique to this gem of a restaurant is an enchilada casserole–corn tortillas layered with chicken and green chile in a creamy sauce. It is absolutely wonderful. It’s the very first thing we had when we discovered Perea’s in 1996 and one of the entrees we order most often. Enchilada casseroles are rarely found on menus in the Land of Enchantment’s wonderful New Mexican restaurants, but attend any high school graduation or funeral in Northern New Mexico and you’ll be served some of the best homemade enchilada casseroles you’ll ever have. Perea’s is even better!
Perea’s beef stew is a perfect remedy for a winter day doldrums (and is best consumed on the table nearest the restaurant’s wood-burning fireplace). This is the type of stew that best defines comfort foods New Mexico style–with green chile. Perea’s tortillas are thick and substantial, unlike the paper-thin aberrations offered at other restaurants. The sopaipillas are puffy clouds of goodness just waiting for honey. The salsa is fresh and lively (with a slightly sweet taste that complements the green chile), made with plump red tomatoes and the chips are served warm, my favorite combination.
Many New Mexicans who hold fast to long-established traditions celebrate New Year’s eve with steaming bowls of posole, a hearty stew of pork, onion, garlic, chile and processed corn kernels. Some (like me) feast on posole year-round. Note: It’s a cardinal sin to say posole is synonymous with hominy. While they’re both processed corns, hominy is unimaginative and soft while posole is earthy, robust and delicious. At Perea’s posole is a seasonal offering available as a side with one of the plates. It’s also available separately if you’re looking for lighter fare. It’s some of the very best posole you’ll find anywhere. You’ll agree it’s not just for Christmas eve.
Perhaps because Americans are so used to foods which practically need desalinization, you will notice that Perea’s cuisine is somewhat under-salted. To me, that’s a good thing because it allows salting to taste. Too many New Mexican food restaurants salt their entrees in greater quantities than the blocks of salt given to cows.
There’s no pretentiousness in the cordial, attentive service you receive at Perea’s. The Perea family is down-to-earth and as friendly as can be. Mayling is one of the very best waitresses in the state with no surcease to her talent or charm. There’s nothing pretentious about the food either. It’s just great New Mexican home cooking–the way it should be done!
Perea’s Tijuana Bar & Restaurant
4590 Corrales Road
Corrales, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 12 December 2012
# OF VISITS: 34
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Frito Pie, Enchilada Casserole, Green Chile Stew, Beef Enchiladas