Perea’s Tijuana Bar & Restaurant – Corrales, New Mexico

Perea's Tijuana Bar & Restaurant.
Perea’s Tijuana Bar & Restaurant in Corrales.

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.

John (at left) and T.C. Perea, the genial braintrust of Perea's Tijuana Bar & Restaurant.
John (at left) and the late T.C. Perea, current and former owners of Perea’s Tijuana Bar & Restaurant.

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. For most of my eighteen years at Intel, Perea’s was a refuge, a sanctuary, a home-away-from home.

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.

The lovely and talented Mayling Garcia bringing a green chile cheeseburger to our table. We've got the best seat in the house, by the fireplace.
The lovely and talented Mayling Garcia bringing a green chile cheeseburger to our table. We’ve got the best seat in the house, by the fireplace.

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, serving Perea’s faithful for a dozen years before striking out into the “real world.” Thankfully she’s back at Perea’s where she’s practically family. 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.

Chips and salsa at Perea's
Chips and salsa at Perea’s

16 January 2016: The menu doesn’t list a lot of appetizers. That makes good sense considering the entire menu covers only one laminated page and lists probably no more than twenty items in total. Among available appetizers are the de rigueur chips and salsa, nachos and a cheese quesadilla served with salsa. The salsa is terrific though not a complimentary offering. It’s thick and rich, punctuated with piquant jalapeños. The chips aren’t made on the premises, but they’re good chips–round, low-in-salt and formidable enough to hold up against Gil-sized scoops of salsa.

16 January 2016: That salsa is part and parcel of another appetizer, the cheese quesadillas. In an age when every sandwich-like dish seems to incorporate as many ingredients as possible, this quesadilla is engorged with nothing but melted, molten Cheddar cheese. Nothing else (though you can add chopped tomatoes and lettuce if you’d like)! A gigantic tortilla with a pinto pony char is sliced into five triangular wedges, each stuffed with gooey cheese. The salsa is a perfect foil, offering piquancy and freshness to an otherwise savory Frisbee-sied masterpiece.

Cheese Quesadillas with Salsa

Perea’s serves the best Frito Pie in New Mexico! Period! End of story! 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 very best Frito pie in New Mexico!
The very best Frito pie in New Mexico!

16 January 2016: 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. Perea’s tops it with shredded Cheddar and my Kim enjoys it most with a fried egg or two.

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 shredded pork and just enough corn masa to ameliorate, not dominate the taste. This delicious entree is also available Christmas style (with red and green chile) and with or without onions. Each tamale is roughly four inches long and about half as thick. As with the carne adovada, the tamales aren’t as piquant as other entrees at Perea’s. The marinated pork has some bite, but moreover, it has the smooth flavor that characterizes great tamales.

Carne Adovada with a fried egg

16 January 2016: 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!

Green Chile Cheeseburger

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.

Perea's tamales with beans and posole
Perea’s tamales with beans and posole

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.

Stacked Enchiladas with Carne Adovada, Beans and Posole
Stacked Enchiladas with Carne Adovada, Beans and Posole

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
(505) 898-2442
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 16 January 2016
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Frito Pie, Enchilada Casserole, Green Chile Stew, Beef Enchiladas

Perea's Tijuana Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

About Gil Garduno

Since 2008, the tagline on Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog has invited you to “Follow the Culinary Ruminations of New Mexico’s Sesquipedalian Sybarite.” To date, nearly 1 million visitors have trusted (or at least visited) my recommendations on nearly 1,100 restaurant reviews. Please take a few minutes to tell me what you think. Whether you agree or disagree with me, I'd love to hear about it.

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18 Comments on “Perea’s Tijuana Bar & Restaurant – Corrales, New Mexico”

  1. Love this place..Love to take out of town company to this gem in Corrales! They love it too. Great Posole,enchiladas,etc. Great food! It’s become our favorite place for lunch

  2. I worked there in the mid 70s as a bartender when a lady named Beverly Marfut leased the building and ran it as the “Country Barbeque”. I have known TC for many years and was saddened when I heard of his death. he truly was a gentleman. I now live in Washington state and rarely make it back to NM. I REALLY miss the food that I grew up on.

  3. I was lucky enough to discover Perea’s and have had lunch there a few times a week for the past month or so. The staff and owner are great, the ambience is old New Mex Charming and the food is excellent. I’m never let down by the great food. It’s like eating at someone’s home and you’ll feel welcome given the charm of the staff and owner. If you haven’t yet eaten here you’re missing out, it’s a gem.

  4. This is our new favorite place. Never knew it was a restaurant too. We stopped in about 3 weeks ago. The wonderful waitress sat us out on the patio. We had the red enchilada plate with beans and posole..Awesome! Just what we wanted. Tried to take friends back on the next Friday night but realized it wasn’t open in the evening…We will be back. Hospitality was unmatchec!

  5. What a unique and wonderful place. Gil, your review is right on. The chips and salsa were quite tasty.. We also had the Frito Pie and the Posole. Both were right on. I know we will be back now often. Loved the place. Wait staff consisting of Kirstin (sorry if not spelled correctly) and Kayla were attentive and had great personalities. Thanks, Gil for your review. You got me in the door and we plan to be regulars.

  6. Rest in peace T.C. We will miss your kindness and graciousness. The “gentle” in gentleman was put there because of you.

  7. First off, don’t let reports of construction in the area, as of this date, give you pause to stay away. Except for some orange barrels off the roadway looking like they had been forgotten to be picked up, it was a straight shot up Corrales Rd. from Alameda/528.

    Used one of my ‘Summer Breakfasts with The Girls’ (Dad’s Day gift per my daughters) to finally check out Perea’s as I’m not usually a lunch/breakfast eater-outer…AHA, we heard from a highly reliable source that they are targeting a dinner opening in October!!! While one daughter couldn’t make it, two of us had the Frito Pie with both of us giving Thumbs up to the Carne and the beef versions, let alone the red chile.

    Whoa, while I knew they had a full service bar, I didn’t know they had a patio to boot.

    While John and another gal…oops, sorry didn’t catch the name of per ogling this old casa… were most gracious in extending a feeling of Mi Casa, Su Casa, Mayling was our very attentive waitress, ya know, the kind that’s not just a delivery person who is here today gone tomorrow.

    Alas, I didn’t do my homework ahead of time and had forgotten the reference to the glass piano…armonica of Ben Franklin. You can hear Mayling playing hers at!!!

    (Afterwards, drove up the road to see the charred remnants of the olde Territorial House.)


  8. I love Perea’s …been eating there for nearly 21 years now. As a timid Minnesotan in 1990 when it came to eating chile…Perea’s was like a smooth transition to appreciation for this unique regional cuisine. Meeting friends there, and having committee meetings there is a favorite excuse to go for lunch. John will soon be open for dinner too, which opens up many other possibilities for socializing! Marvelous place, good people.

  9. I have been there several times and it is fantastic. It is a very friendly place. The food is wonderful. Also a great place just to stop by for a beer and to visit.

  10. Born and raised 20 miles from the chile capitol of the world, so I know great southwestern food. Perea’s is the BEST in the entire state of New Mexico. The Carne Adovada is the best I’ve ever tasted. No matter how far you have to travel to get to Corrales, it will be worth the trip to Chile Heaven. A true “MUST DO” place to eat.

  11. I am proud of my friend John Perea, this is from your friend in Nicaragua Mike Ramirez. Food looks great and I wonder if you could eMail some recipes.

  12. My husband and I spent about 2 weeks in NM last June and the meal I had at Perea’s was one of the best!! I had the carne adovada with a fried egg on top, amazing!! We also had Mayling as our server and you cannot get better service than that! Perea’s is a must.

  13. This food looks great! I love tamales and can’t wait to try these. I will come back with a reply about my experience.

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