It’s pretty common knowledge that several years ago, a state legislator submitted a resolution to declare “red or green chile” the official “state question“. On April 8, 1999, Governor Gary Johnson signed the bill making the resolution law. Less known is the fact that the New Mexico state legislature also passed a resolution approving an official state answer. It’s no surprise that “red and green” or “Christmas” has been adopted as the official answer of the great state of New Mexico?
Why red or green? In the hundreds of restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment in which chile is served, you’ll invariably be asked to state your preference–red or green. The fact that the state legislature approved resolutions for both a state question and answer signifies just how important the chile industry is to the economy of the Land of Enchantment. In 2004 New Mexico produced 106,850 tons of chile (25% above 2003) valued at 50.33 million dollars, making it the number one (legal) cash crop in terms of sales in the state.
One of the Duke City’s best practitioners of the art of preparing and serving excellent red or green chile is La Esquina Restaurante on the Galeria Mall in the bowels of the First National Bank building at Tijeras Avenue and 3rd Street. La Esquina (the Corner) is one of the Duke City’s best kept secrets, frequented heavily during lunch hour by patrons whose daily occupations happen to place them nearby and during happy hour when those people need a friendly place to unwind. For those of us who don’t work nearby and don’t otherwise have a reason to be downtown, thank God for Friday when La Esquina serves dinner.
Although I’ve known about La Esquina for years, it took an intriguing Chowhound post from a Los Angeles resident to motivate our inaugural visit. That Angelino indicated La Esquina’s unique salsa established the standard by which he has measured all salsa since. Sure enough, the salsa was both sensational and unique. It also exemplified why the answer to New Mexico’s official state question isn’t always “red or green.” Sometimes it’s “Christmas” as in both red and green.
This salsa is fashioned with red tomatoes and included plenty of hot green chile to give it a festive yuletide appearance. While not as piquant as the salsa at Sadie’s or Garduño’s, it packed a nice, tongue tingling taste that prompted the endorphin rush which makes green chile so addictive. The accompanying chips are lightly salted and fresh. In its September, 2012 edition, Albuquerque The Magazine named the salsa at La Esquina Restaurante the fourth best in Albuquerque from among 130 salsas sampled throughout the city.
La Esquina’s menu isn’t half a mile long as you’ll find at other New Mexican restaurants. Instead it features a few New Mexican standards, ostensibly all done as wonderfully as those we experienced. Each dinner entree is accompanied by your choice of guacamole or con queso, both of which were excellent. Neither was particularly piquant, but each was a great representative of its grenre. Entrees also include your choice of two of the following: pinto beans, papitas and posole, all of which were wonderful accompaniments to outstanding entrees. Very few restaurants serve beans that really make you take notice, but La Esquina does with perfect pintos you could eat by the bowlful. The posole, dressed with red chile, is also noteworthy while the papitas were cubed and fried to perfection.
The enchiladas are stuffed with your choice of chicken or beef and a sharp cheddar cheese. With green chile and a fried egg atop, they’re exemplary enchiladas, among the city’s best. Unlike at other New Mexican restaurants where it’s only the plate that’s hot (as in just out of the microwave), the enchiladas were out of the oven hot–definitely prepared to order. Even better, La Esquina also serves blue corn enchiladas.
La Esquina’s taco plate features three beef or chicken tacos in which the meat is well seasoned and the shells just soft and greasy enough. These tacos compare favorably to those served at the legendary Chope’s restaurant. The burritos are stuffed with beans and shredded pot roast meet and are as good as any burritos you’ll find anywhere in Albuquerque.
After this effusive diatribe, it’s probably no surprise that we found La Esquina’s sopaipillas to be among the best in New Mexico, easily among the top five. They were puffy clouds lacking the seemingly requisite greasiness many other New Mexican restaurants don’t pad off their sopaipillas. Slightly thicker than most, they were a great way to finish a superb meal at a state treasure that shouldn’t be a secret.
La Esquina Restaurante
30 First Plaza, N.W. #60
LATEST VISIT: 16 June 2006
# OF VISITS: 4
BEST BET: Salsa and Chips; Sopaipillas; Posole; Papitas; Enchiladas; Tacos; Beans; Guacamole; Con Queso