San Antonio Crane Mexican Restaurant – San Antonio, New Mexican

The San Antonio Crane Mexican Restaurant in San Antonio, New Mexico

Though I’m widely credited as being the “godfather of Albuquerque food blogging“(or the “Yoda of food” as the great Jenn Wolhetz once called me), before there was a Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Web, there was another voice calling in the wilderness to alert diners to the Land of Enchantment’s culinary offerings.  Before there was a Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Web, there was John W. Shipman food page and it was the most prominent and highly respected online source of independent restaurant reviews in New Mexico.

John Shipman, a software engineer at the New Mexico Institute of Technology, called himself a “gourmand in the dessert.”  His reviews were very well written and highly descriptive, reflecting the culinary savvy of a diner who understands food very well: its composition, its provenance, its flavor profiles.  To say John was an inspiration to me is a vast understatement.  He was the “everyman critic” whose prose and style I emulated (though he was much more successful than I at getting right to the point).  Some of his reviews can still be found online though he doesn’t update them very often.

The San Antonio Crane mascot perched on the porch

To me John W. Shipman commands the type of respect given E. F. Hutton on television commercials.  The tag line for those commercials was “When E. F. Hutton speaks, people listen.”  When John emailed me in July, 2012 with a declaration that “the San Antonio Crane Restaurant has the best carne adovada south of Rancho de Chimayo,” my radar perked up and I began researching the restaurant he said served the “best Mexican food in the county.”  Alas, it would take another ten months before we were able to visit the San Antonio Crane.

The San Antonio Crane, as can be inferred, is named for the thousands of sandhill cranes which migrate to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge every winter.  The Refuge, about nine miles away from San Antonio, New Mexico, is the winter home to tens of thousands of birds.  One of the most spectacular sights you’ll ever witness, an experience akin to a religious epiphany, is when thousands of snow geese simultaneously erupt in explosions of flight, an even triggered by some cue perceptible only to the geese.  It’s absolutely amazing!

Salsa and Bean-Cheese dip with Chips

One of the cranes is apparently held back by its peers as it remains in San Antonio year-round.  He (or she) is a four-foot tall plastic mascot perched on the patio of the San Antonio Crane Mexican Restaurant.  The restaurant, by the way, isn’t on the main drag made famous by The Owl Cafe and Buckhorn Tavern.  It’s almost directly behind the Buckhorn Tavern on a side street you might not notice if you’ve got burgers on your mind.

The San Antonio Crane Mexican Restaurant was known for many years as Acosta’s and it was a village favorite visited by diners-in-the-know from miles around.  Owned and operated by Maria Acosta, it served some of the most authentic, made-from-scratch New Mexican cuisine in central New Mexico.  When it reopened in 2011, Acosta’s was rechristened The San Antonio Crane Mexican Restaurant, now operated by Zolla Acosta, daughter of the original proprietor.   Though the name lays claim to being a Mexican restaurant, the menu and cooking style are New Mexican through and through.

Carne Adovada with a fried egg, Spanish rice and a tortilla

The menu includes a de rigueur (for San Antonio) green chili (SIC) cheeseburger as well as a BLT, grilled cheese and chicken strips for diners who aren’t chile inclined. John Shipman raves about the tamales, indicating they are “some of the best I’ve had anywhere.”  His favorite, however, is the carne adovada “made from pork slow-simmered in a savory sauce.”  He also loves the green chile which is “the way I like it: plenty of heat, but not quite life-threatening, and a lot of flavor.”

Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the San Antonio Crane is tiny–no more than six or seven tables in a diminutive dining room with personal space proximity seating.  The outdoor patio will accommodate an equal number of diners though it’s use is on a weather permitting basis.    Service is attentive without being intrusive. Your lemonade (homemade) is replenished faithfully.

Beef Enchiladas (three flat corn tortillas, beef, cheese, onions, red and green chile with beans and Spanish rice

Salsa isn’t complimentary, but it’s the starter with which every New Mexican food meal should begin.  The salsa has a pleasant piquancy with a respectable bite.  It’s served with red, yellow and blue corn chips which are served warm to hot.  The salsa is thick enough to be a “scooping” salsa and not a “dipping” salsa.  It’s better than so many bottled salsas you’ll find–even better if you pair it with an order of the beans-cheese dip,  soupy pintos with shredded Cheddar cheese.  Why more New Mexican restaurants don’t serve a beans-cheese dip starter is beyond me.

My Kim, the carne adovada aficionado in the family, doesn’t read my reviews or those written by John Shipman, but will jump at the opportunity to try adovada considered on par with that of Restaurante Rancho de Chimayo.   If eyes rolling back in her head are any indication, she loved the carne adovada which she topped with a fried egg over easy.  The carne adovada is indeed porcine perfection, shredded tendrils of tender pork marinated for hours in a wondrous red chile.  Not surprisingly it validated John Shipman’s credibility with me as other reviews of his have done.

Ground beef taco with salsa

Jack Handey, a Saturday Night Live writer (who now lives in Santa Fe) renowned for his “Deep Thoughts” once remarked “If God dwells inside us like some people say, I sure hope He likes enchiladas because that’s what He’s getting.”  Enchiladas are certainly one of the most popular of New Mexican entrees and my usual benchmark for how good a New Mexican restaurant is.  The Beef Enchiladas at the San Antonio Crane are an exemplary rendition of enchiladas: three flat corn tortillas layered with beef and topped with cheese and onions as well as your choice of red or green chile (or both).  The green chile is slightly more incendiary than the red chile, but both are very flavorful.  The enchiladas are served with Spanish rice and beans, some of the most pulchritudinous pintos in New Mexico.

Make sure to have a taco on the side.  The tacos–ground beef, lettuce, chopped tomatoes and salsa–are quite good, served in a deep-fried corn tortilla fashioned as a shell for the other ingredients.  The corn tortilla is both pliable and crispy, providing an enjoyable textural contrast.  The ground beef is nicely seasoned and doesn’t have the “refried” flavor of far too many tacos served in New Mexican restaurants. 

With typical New Mexican aplomb, John Shipman once wrote “life without green chile is not worth living.”  He gets his fix at the San Antonio Crane Mexican Restaurant at least once a week.  If it wasn’t 120 miles away from my home, I’d certainly visit more often, too.  It’s one of the very best New Mexican restaurants in New Mexico and certainly the best in Socorro county.

San Antonio Crane Mexican Restaurant
17 South Pino Street
San Antonio, New Mexico
(575) 835-2208
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 25 May 2013
COST: $$
BEST BET: Carne Adovada, Beef Enchiladas, Salsa and Chips, Bean and Cheese Dip, Tacos

5 thoughts on “San Antonio Crane Mexican Restaurant – San Antonio, New Mexican

  1. Ya know Andrea, I can’t help but think there is Acapulco* Gold in the air when it comes to computer related types like these Guyz. How is it that Gil went down to the Crane for lunch, to followup on an apparent l o n g overdo recommendation by John quite awhile back, on the very day I was to serendipitously meet John for the first time later-in-the-day? Was it cuz I was telling tourists about the Buckhorn or Owl…I never heard of the Crane…while volunteering in the AM at an ABQ Convention & Visitors Bureau Info ‘desk’ upon learning tourists were headed south on I-25 !!! (I used to try to reference San A. by noting Conrad Hilton was born there…picture hand waving over top of head, i.e. rarely worked. Nowadays, I have to note its the home of Paris’ great-grandfather!!!) That evening I met John (and companion) at Chez Bob to discover they love Gil’s site, i.e. I hadn’t told Gil of that meeting before up pops Gil’s review!!!!

    Conclusion: Forget ‘the cover’ that the Very Large Array is trying to catch ‘electro-whatever’ sounds from outer space! It’s just down the road from John’s NMSU!!!! (Also, sorry, its been awhile to remember what Jodie Foster and Matthew McConoughey did/didn’t discover in ‘Contact’!) Our 2 computer types are catching stuff here on earth using the VLA which they then toy with us by creating and beaming “coincidences” to amaze us, including even 6 Degrees of Separation stuff!!! Personally, I find it odd that Rod Serling was taken off the air after only 5 seasons of The Twilight Zone. Think of it: I’m addressing you cuz you showed up here just a few days after writing your own review about the *Acapulco eatery in the AJ Venue!!!! While I rarely send you a comment…isn’t it suspicious I also shot you an email elsewhere about that???!!! I’m just saying.

    From that mag Bon Appetit comes this recognition in the Village of Los Ranchos:
    Lastly, ya know Folks, it ain’t gonna get any better than this: A Truly Mexican-American ‘dish’ is coming on the gastroscene!!! And so many of Y’all scoff at Las Cadenas!

  2. Totally, totally agree on the shout out to John Shipman. He was one of my under the radar mentors as I began food writing and finding out about spots all over town. Good to hear he is still an avid diner….

    1. Though he doesn’t chronicle his restaurant visits as faithfully as he used to, the esteemed Mr. Shipman still frequents some of New Mexico’s best restaurants. This past Saturday, my publicist Bob of the Village People ran into John at Chez Bob. Coincidentally while John was making his way to the Duke City, I was on my way to San Antonio Crane, a visit prompted by his recommendation. Small world.

  3. I think you might have made an error in your review you compare the green chile to the green chile & in most of your reviews you are comparing the green to the red?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.