Matilda’s Restaurant – Espanola, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Flowers pale in comparison to Matilda Guillen
Flowers pale in comparison to Matilda Guillen

In Asi Es Nuevo Mexico, the official state song of New Mexico, former Lieutenant Governor Roberto Mondragon extols in a rich timbre, the incomparably beauteous flowers of The Land of Enchantment–its women. When the verse “lindas mujeras que no tiene igual” (beautiful women without equal) was written, the composer must certainly have had Matilda Guillen in mind.

At 81 years young, there is no surcease to Matilda’s boundless energy. She has owned and operated her eponymous restaurant for fifty years and has no plans to retire. On Sunday, September 24th, 2006, throngs of friends, family and admirers gathered together to celebrate her 81st birthday. Surrounded by hundreds of people who know and love her, she was practically showered in flowers, all of which paled in comparison to her inner and outer beauty.

Although we had known about her and her restaurant for years, we met Matilda just five days after she had been feted by her family and friends. She was still aglow in happiness and basking in the presence of the flowers and family which remained behind. Though we had never met her before, she treated us the way she treats all her customers–like old friends. She is obviously very well rooted with nary a sense of worry or fret.

Matilda spoke to us of the past when she charged five cents for a cup of coffee and twenty-five cents for a big bowl of chile, but mostly she talked of the promise of the future. An eternal optimist, she hopes and plans to continue greeting and serving her customers for a long time to come. She also spoke lovingly of her family which includes long-time Democrat power-broker Ben Lujan.

You can't miss Matilda's thanks to this sign that points the way.
You can’t miss Matilda’s thanks to this sign that points the way.

There’s no way the cavalcade of cars that daily traverse the state highway which bisects Espanola can miss Matilda’s Restaurant which is just off the beaten path on a dirt alley. A large well-lit sign points the way to what is a humble, homey restaurant everyone in Northern New Mexico knows about. In many ways, her restaurant resembles the former family home it once was. Catholic icons and family pictures decorate every wall while the porch leading to the restaurant’s entrance is decorated with potted geraniums and other perennials.

The menu, on which the faces of a Native American and a Conquistador are depicted, is replete with native Northern New Mexican foods. With the exception of the tacos platter, all dinners are served with your choice of red or green chile and sopaipillas. The green chile is reputed to be among the very best in the state while the posole most assuredly is.

A steaming bowl of posole, ameliorated with chunks of tender pork, with green chile is a must have. Posole is a New Mexico comfort food standard traditionally served at Christmas time (but wonderful year round) and there is none better than Matilda’s version. As hearty and heart-warming as can be, it is made even better with fluffy, golden-brown sopaipillas which Matilda herself replenishes faithfully. Oh, and you can also have those sopaipillas with a locally produced honey which is far superior to the store-bought kind other restaurants serve.

The famous Matilda's Restaurant in Espanola, New Mexico
The famous Matilda’s Restaurant in Espanola, New Mexico

Matilda’s salsa is a rich red blend and in texture resembles a thickened tomato paste, but it packs a piquant punch that sneaks up on you. A bowlful before your meal is a must though you might want to save some for your entree. The salsa is served with a basket of crisp, low-salt chips.

Enchiladas have become the quintessential New Mexican entree and Matilda’s are among the best of their genre. Served either rolled or flat (my preference) and with the requisite fried egg on top, there may be nothing that tastes more like New Mexico. Cheese and onion may embellish the enchilada, but there’s no doubting that these enchiladas are about the chile–the way it should be–even though Matilda’s green chile could be a tad more piquant. The pinto beans are served whole, not refried and mashed, also the way it should be.

Also as they should be are Matilda’s tacos which are loaded with perfectly seasoned beef and shredded cheese and served in the un-Taco Bell manner on uneven shells dipped in boiling grease. If some of that grease gets on your hands as you eat your tacos, that’s the way it should be.

Matilda’s has been going strong for fifty years. That, too, is the way it should be!

Matilda’s Restaurant
424 Corlett Road
Espanola, NM
(505) 753-3200
LATEST VISIT: 29 September 2006
COST: $$
BEST BET: Posole with Green Chile, Tacos, Sopaipillas, Salsa and Chips, Green Chile Enchiladas

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7 thoughts on “Matilda’s Restaurant – Espanola, New Mexico (CLOSED)

  1. Not surprised at lack of published recipes from Matilda–after all, everyone knows how to make a great burrito, right? Thanks so much for your time. Aloha, Elaine

  2. Lived in NM from Jan 1950 to Sep 1984. Loved Rio Grande Cafe and, later, Matilda’s. Would give a lot for one of Matilda’s green chile burritos or a basket of Sopaipillas from Rio Grande Cafe. Are any of Matilda’s recipes available? Thanks and aloha, Elaine

    1. Sadly I couldn’t find any of Matilda’s recipes either online or at a local library. The last time we saw Matilda, shortly after her restaurant closed in 2011, she was in good spirits and good health. As always she had a broad smile on her face. About a year later she lost her husband of 65 years.

  3. Stopped by Matilda’s yesterday (3/15/11) and was saddened to see that the restaurant is no longer in business.

  4. We had lunch at Matilda’s today and thoroughly enjoyed it. The highlight for us, really, was Matilda and her staff. They could not have been more friendly and welcoming. The restaurant itself was, like its hosts, charming.

    Having said that, the food was fine. It reminded me of the food in a small New Mexican restaurant in Albuquerque that we would frequent when in high school and at UNM back in the late ’50s. The serving sizes were reasonable and the food was flavorful, yet unpretentious. My wife and I both had the enchilada plate, but me with red and she with green, as is our way.

    The red chile on my enchiladas left a welcome burn on my lips and was quite flavorful. The posole was great, even better after I rolled it around in the red chile. The beans were refried and tasty, and the sopaipillas came to our table as hot and as fresh as is possible, dripping with Gil’s “boiling grease.” My wife’s green chile was quite tasty, but not so piquant. She also had ground beef in her enchiladas which she preferred to the cheese, as the ground beef was very flavorful.

    More visits are required for tacos, salsa and a bowl of posole.

  5. you have the address wrong for Matilda’s:

    it should be:
    424 Corlett
    Espanola, NM87532
    (505) 753-3200

  6. I moved to NM in April 1999 and on the seventh day (literally) I was invited on a charity run from Chimayo to Los Alamos. After braving an unexpected spring snowstorm near Los Alamos, what more can calm one than be treated to my first New Mexican restaurant experience… my first Christmas tree burrito and initiation to red chile sauce. I was really starving after having ran 21 miles of the 28 but the great taste and the ambiance I still remember to this very day,

    Matilda herself is fantastic. I always go there whenever I am in the area or take the obligatory Bandelier site seeing when I have out of state visitors. No one has been disappointed yet.

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