Socorro, New Mexico is a dichotomous town. It is the second oldest inhabited community in our culturally blessed Land of Enchantment, yet it boasts one of the nation’s premier research universities. It is steeped in history and tradition, inextricably linked to its storied past while embracing the technologies which are laying the groundwork for future peace and prosperity. According to Visit Socorro “Socorro (literally to give aid, to give succor) was indeed a source of help to the first expedition of Spanish families traveling north from Mexico in 1598, led by Don Juan de Oñate y Salazar. Socorro’s first inhabitants, Piro-speaking people of the Teypana Pueblo, welcomed the scouting party of Oñate and his men. They showed no fear of the strangers, according to Oñate’s official log, and with hand signs told the group what lay ahead. When the Teypana inhabitants unexpectedly gave the group a large gift of corn, Oñate renamed the pueblo Socorro.”
Much as Socorro would like to be considered a destination community, it’s better known as a “jumping off” point to nearby destinations. It’s within minutes of the Bosque del Apache National Life Refuge where 12,900 acres of boggy bottomlands host tens of thousands of ducks, Canadian geese and Sandhill cranes, transient visitors which make their annual trek to this winter habitat. It is scant miles away from the Trinity Site where the first atomic bomb was detonated in 1945. It’s also not too far from the Very Large Array (VLA), a Federally Funded Research and Development Center.
If culinary tarriance is what you seek in your sojourns throughout the Land of Enchantment, Socorro probably isn’t at the top (or perhaps anywhere near) of your list. In fact, among some savvy southbound foodies, Socorro is just the town you pass on your way to San Antonio, home of the world-famous Owl Cafe, the just as famous Buckhorn Tavern and the deserving of fame San Antonio General Store. In the eyes of culinary cognoscenti, San Antonio is a gem–one of the state’s destinations for our sacrosanct green chile cheeseburger.
Several Socorro restaurants are slowly changing that perception. Among them is the Socorro Springs Brewing Company which over the years has established a reputation as a great reason to get off I25 and pause for a good meal. It is a rarity in a town facing the incursion of corporate chains and the aging of hometown restaurants in timeworn edifices. It is a multi-hued swath of color in a monochrome town.
The Socorro Springs Brewing Company just may be the town’s version of Cheers, a pub and restaurant all the locals visit and ostensibly, a local tavern in which everyone knows your name. Get there on a Friday or Saturday night and you just may have to wait for a seat to come open. Most of the cars in the parking lot bear New Mexico, U.S.A. license plates, but you’ll also espy plates from other states not nearly as enchanting (as if they could possibly be).
The walls in the back dining room are festooned with amazing framed prints taken at El Bosque del Apache. There’s something remarkably calming about being back-dropped by the imagery of majestic birds in flight and at play in one of the state’s natural treasures. The cynosure of the main dining room is the large wood-fire oven fired with pecan wood grown in the Rio Grande Valley. Pecan is a very clean and hot burning wood that imparts a slightly sweet and nutty flavor that you’ll be able to discern on the pizza.
The Socorro Springs Brewing Company is a full service restaurant with an on-the-premises brewery whose ales and lagers have earned accolades and awards from aficionados of adult beverages. If your tastes in beer lean toward sarsaparilla, you’ll love the home brewed root beer. It’s an adult root beer–not too sweet or acidic with a nice herbal bouquet. It’s a better, all natural (sweetened with agave) root beer than you’ll find at Albuquerque’s Il Vicino restaurant which also brews its own.
The menu is surprisingly sophisticated with entrees ranging from wood-fired gourmet pizza or calzones to hand-cut rib eye steaks grilled over a 100 percent pecan wood-fired grill. The restaurant’s mission is to offer the absolute best dining experience at an affordable price in a casual yet classy environment. Mission accomplished!
The menu offers nightly specials and scratch-made soups of the week. The soup might be mulligatawny, the special grilled mahi mahi. There’s a lot of variety and creativity on the menu. Ingredients are of surprisingly high quality. All the restaurant’s beef is from the Buena Vista Ranch in northern New Mexico. All ground beef is 100 percent top round. The New York strip and rib eye are 100 percent USDA choice or higher.
An early indication that the kitchen staff knows what it’s doing is how good the fresh made salsa with fire-roasted jalapeños is. It’s a fresh salsa of medium piquancy and maximum flavor, a surprisingly good salsa with the invigoratingly fresh flavor combination of chopped tomatoes, onions, cilantro and fire-roasted jalapeños. It’s served with yellow, blue and red corn tortilla chips which are lightly salted, crisp and formidable enough not to crumble under the weight of large salsa scoops.
Another excellent appetizer is the Spinach and Artichoke Dip made with a quadrumvirate of queso–four delicious cheeses: Parmesan, Feta, Brie and Cheddar-Jack as well as fresh spinach and artichokes served with a toasted Cheddar batard (a torpedo-shaped loaf of bread that is thicker and stubbier than a baguette) loaf. The dip is thick and creamy, served at molten warmth. The four cheese combination has a lot of personality and flavor complemented very well by the ever so slightly toasted Cheddar bread which is sliced thinly.
Wood-fired pizzas are, according to the wait staff, the most popular draw at the restaurant. It’s easy to see why. These are hand-tossed ten-inch round pizzas made with homemade dough, sauces and gourmet toppings all baked in a pecan wood-fired brick oven until “kissed by the fire.” You may want to kiss the pizza chef by the time you’re done with one of these beauties.
Just listen to the ingredients on the “El Cerdo” (translated to English as “the pig”): red chile marinated pork loin thinly sliced with locally grown red chile sauce, capicolla ham, Cheddar-Jack cheese, Roma tomatoes, scallions and black olives topped with fresh cilantro. It’s every bit as terrific as it sounds and is on par with the gourmet pizzas served at Rio Rancho’s Turtle Mountain Brewery (and better than any pizza at the aforementioned Il Vicino). It’s even good cold.
Also quite good is the auspiciously named Black and Blue pizza, a pie crafted with olive oil, roasted garlic, mozzarella and bleu cheese, grilled onions, mushrooms and thin sliced steak. That’s quite an ingredient line-up for quite a pizza. The spelling “bleu cheese” as opposed to “blue cheese” denotes little in terms of the actual cheese because “bleu” is simply the French spelling of “blue,” but attitudinally, it says a lot. It says Socorro Springs wants patrons to know they’re not getting some cheap, watery salad cream quality blue cheese. It makes a difference. The other ingredient stand-outs are the thinly sliced steak, kissed with just a hint of pecan-wood smoke.
It’s not often you’ll find restaurants serving wood-oven lasagna so ordering it is a no-brainer for adventurous diners. Socorro Springs rendition is made with layers of spinach, egg pasta, roasted red bell peppers, red onions, mushrooms, Canino’s Italian sausage, roasted garlic, marinara, ricotta and mozzarella topped with just a smear of basil-pesto. Served the temperature of molten lava, your first impression might be of wispy steam wafting upwards or it might be of the roof of your mouth being scalded by the molten cheeses. Let it cool off enough and you’ll be rewarded with a surprisingly good lasagna.
There is one item on the Socorro Springs menu which hasn’t win me over. Surprisingly it’s the restaurant’s version of a green chile cheeseburger, a beefy behemoth named the World-Famous Burger. A half-pound patty of lean ground beef is impregnated with New Mexico green chile then grilled on the restaurant’s pecan wood-fired grill and topped with your choice of cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, red onions and pickles. The green chile has a nice roasted flavor though it’s a bit on the mild side. The ingredients are of high quality. Alas, the pecan wood influence is a strong one, imparting an off-putting ashy flavor that pretty much overwhelms the entire burger. Barbecue purists recognize that a little smoke goes a long way. It’s a lesson which should be applied to this burger, too.
One special which just might make it onto the daily menu is the Penne Pasta Arrabiata, a term which means “angry style” due to the heat of the peppers with which it’s made. This pasta dish is comprised of a garlic, tomato, basil and red chile sauce cooked in olive oil. If the red chile isn’t enough for you, a small cup of red pepper flakes comes with it. The restaurant’s rendition also includes a spicy Italian sausage and heady olives. The highlight of this entree is the sausage, as good an Italian sausage as you can find in New Mexico.
18 September 2022: Matt Lynch of Thrillist wrote one of my Kim’s favorite food critiques: “There’s an unmistakable stigma attached to being a fully realized, grown-ass adult who prefers cheese pizza. Stating such a preference makes much of the pizza-consuming public think you’re an unrefined rube with the palate of a small child. That’s a damn shame, because toppings are the single most overrated element of the pizza equation, and a perfect slice of cheese pizza is a beautiful testament to the virtues of simple restraint.” You see, my Kim’s favorite pizza topping is cheese. Not surprising considering our Mars versus Venus relationship, my favorite topping is virtually everything you can put atop a pizza.
Cheese pizza is the tabula rasa of pizza–a blank slate atop of which other stuff can be piled. Still, even among turophiles I know, my Kim is the only person who would eat an entire pizza with only cheese–and it’s not even bleu cheese or feta or some other fetid fromage. Contrary to what Matt Lynch wrote, a cheese pizza isn’t “a beautiful testament to the virtues of simple restraint.” It’s a bore-fest for the palate, a monotonous melty mess atop a crusty canvas which could be great…if only.
18 September 2022: Give me your sausage, your pepperoni, your charred green chile yearning to impart heat. Give me salty ham on a steaming crust. That’s what you’ll find on the El Bandido (pepperoni, prosciutto ham, Caninos spicy Italian sausage, pickled jalapenos, house made marinara sauce and mozzarella. One caution–make sure you ask for a medium char (at least). A light char and the pie might not be formidable enough to hold up against all those moist ingredients. Socorro Springs does tend to go light on the char and because char does have flavor, that’s one key flavor component missing. Just don’t miss out on the El Bandido.
“As good as you can find in New Mexico.” That seems to describe several items on the menu. It’s no wonder the Socorro Springs Brewery is starting to be mentioned alongside some of the area’s famous restaurants. It’s another reason to visit the great small city of Socorro.
Socorro Springs Brewing Company
1012 North California Street
Socorro, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 18 September 2022
1st VISIT: 13 February 2009
# OF VISITS: 4
BEST BET: Root Beer, Salsa and Chips, El Cerdo, Penne Pasta Arrabiata, Wood-Oven Lasagna, Spinach & Artichoke Dip, Black and Bleu Pizza, Hawaiian Pizza