Stray Dog Cantina – Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico

Stray Dog Cantina at the Taos Ski Valley

There’s a rather ominous sign on the base of the Taos Ski Valley. In bold red uppercase print, the sign reads “DON’T PANIC!,” a preface for somewhat more reassuring text: “YOU’RE LOOKING AT ONLY 1/30 OF TAOS SKI VALLEY. WE HAVE MANY EASY RUNS TOO!” To novice skiers, the steepness of the ski runs visible from the base may as well be the “I’d turn back if I were you” sign Dorothy and her friends encountered when they entered the Haunted Forest on the way to the castle of the Wicked Witch of the West. No doubt the less skilled schussers turn tail like the Cowardly Lion and head for flatter topography.

There’s another boldface type warning at another Taos Ski Valley landmark. This one is for the meek of taste bud and gastrointestinal system. The menu at the Stray Dog Cantina warns “Caution: Our chile is not for amateurs. It’s extra tasty, but it can be spicy – it is serious chile.” It’s obvious this warning is intended primarily for out-of-state visitors unaccustomed to their food biting back. For citizens of the Land of Enchantment, such a warning is akin to a red flag being waved at a charging bull. We see it as a challenge, another test for our manliness (being the more mature and intelligent gender, women don’t fall for such challenges) and an opportunity to show off our asbestos-lined constitutions. Not to mention some of us really dig this stuff when it’s packing heat. Then there are others who believe pain is a flavor.</span >

The Pet-Friendly Patio at Stray Dog Cantina

With a name such as Stray Dog Cantina, it’s only fitting that this long-time Taos Ski Valley apres-ski favorite is one of only two pet-friendly restaurants in the Taos area. The genesis of the unique name seems to be consigned to history and, in fact, some regulars still refer to it as “Tim’s Place” while throughout the internet, references to “Tim’s Stray Dog Cantina” abound. Tim would be co-founder Tim Harter who died in an avalanche while backcountry skiing beyond Taos Ski Valley boundaries in 1996.

While the “Tim’s” portion of the name was removed in 2009 when Harter’s family sold the cantina, at least “Stray Dog” portion seems a permanent fixture. Fittingly, the women’s softball team sponsored by the Stray Dog is called the “Stray Bitches.” Their trophies are on display on the first floor which is part dining room (complete with picnic tables and wooden benches) and all bar. On one second story wall, you’ll find a painting of New Mexico’s most spectacular mountain, The Jicarita, by the delightful Leigh Gusterson. The Jicarita which backdrops Peñasco (pandering to my hometown) is about 35 miles from the Taos Ski Valley.

Frito Pie

Save for closing for a few weeks in spring after ski season, The Stray Dog is open year-round. The vibe is certainly different in the winter when pristine white powder blankets the area. Our inaugural visit, about a month before the autumnal equinox, was a weekend escape from the heat of the Duke City. It was a good 25 degrees cooler at the Taos Ski Valley, prompting some visitors to don attire more appropriate for the winter. The pet-friendly patio hugs the Stray Dog and provides magnificent views of the towering evergreens. The al fresco experience is heightened by the sound of water cascading along a babbling brook directly beneath the wooden planks of the patio.

Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, The Stray Dog offers an interesting menu replete with familiar New Mexican favorites and some unique creations heretofore unseen. Red chile is sourced from Chimayo. It’s a vegetarian chile ameliorated only by garlic and fresh vegetables. All beef sold on the premises comes from New Mexico. Among the more interesting dishes on the menu is the Hawaiian inspired Local Loco which is loosely patterned after the Aloha State’s “Loco Moco,” a dish many Spanish-speaking New Mexicans might find off-putting in that “moco” translates from Spanish to “mucus.” You get the feeling the creator of Stray Dog’s menu knew this.

Green Chile Cheeseburger with Fries

Save for a unique starter named the “Mexican Suzie Sushi” (blue corn-battered chile relleno wrapped in a tortilla, cut like sushi and served on red or green chile), the appetizers are similar to those you’d find at many New Mexican restaurants. Because the salsa was laced with hemlock…er, cumin, we opted out of anything on the appetizers menu and shared a Frito pie (a bowl of Frito’s corn chips topped with beans, red chile, cheese, onion, lettuce, chopped jalapeños and sour cream). It was our first opportunity to sample the chile about which we were warned. As surmised, that warning wasn’t intended for red (chile) blooded New Mexicans. The only heat discernible came from the chopped jalapeños. The purity and deliciousness of the chile made up for its lack of piquancy. It’s a very tasty chile, the highlight of an otherwise good Frito pie.

Though the Local Loco beckoned, as one of the quadrumvirate who put the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail together, it is always my patriotic duty to order a green chile cheeseburger, by far the most popular item on the menu (even among tourists). The green chile cheeseburger is constructed with Angus beef which is topped with green chile blanketed by melted Cheddar cheese. Both mayo and mustard are slathered on the top bun with pickles, onions and tomatoes on the side. The hand-formed beef patty doesn’t quite cover the bun, but what there is of it is terrific, reminiscent of a grilled steak and what it lacks in circumference is more than made up for in thickness and deliciousness. As with the red chile on the Frito pie, the green chile didn’t pack much of a punch.

Green Chile Stew with Side of Beans

In order to restore homeostasis under extreme conditions (sixty degrees with a stiff breeze), New Mexicans crave the salubrious elixir of green chile stew. We crave it because it nurtures us with two types of heat–the heart-warming heat of cold-defeating temperature and the heat of piquancy. The Stray Dog’s version must be very popular at winter, primarily because it helps offset the cold (and, who knows, visitors may even discern a piquant bite). For us, the green chile, while flavorful, was rather insipid, lacking the second type of heat New Mexicans crave. It’s not a bad green chile stew, but we would have enjoyed it more had it brought sweat to our brows and blisters to our tongues. Available with chicken or pork (shredded), the green chile stew is cloaked in white and yellow Cheddar.

While the warning about the chile was wholly unnecessary for us, those steep mountain trails almost make me thankful that knees wrecked from playing football can no longer schuss down precipitous mountain trails. Whether or not you ski, the Stray Dog Cantina is a great place for relaxing in the company of your four-legged children.

Stray Dog Cantina
105 Sutton Place
Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico
(575) 776-2894
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 23 August 2014
COST: $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Frito Pie, Green Chile Stew

Tim's Stray Dog Cantina on Urbanspoon

15 thoughts on “Stray Dog Cantina – Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico

  1. I was thrown off by the Hermosa Beach location. Actually, Umami Burgers has about 15 locations just in S CA, one of which is a 5 minute drive from me. I’ve had their GCCB and it’s very good! I first had it one afternoon last year after getting a very expensive parking ticket (not my fault, but won’t belabor the point). To sooth my ruffled feathers, I stopped at Umani in Los Feliz and got the GCCB med-rare on the rare side, an order of fries and a nice glass of red wine. I felt oh-so-much better! (I order it with extra green chiles, courtesy of a very helpful waitress when she saw my excitement at seeing a real GCCB in LA!)

  2. B-A-L,
    While you feel the need to supply ” links” for those of us you consider less intelligent and computer savvy than you I am of the opinion Gil’s distinguished blog has some of the most intelligent commenters of any blog in the country .
    And those folks don’t need help finding the sites themselves.
    You insult Sandy just to be “helpful”????
    Shame on you Bobo. Gloria must be embarrassed that she was such an ardent supporter of yours, claiming you were a sweet old man. I was able to type in Umami Burger, Hermosa Beach. And Bobo it was like magic, poof, up popped just what I was searching for.
    Your friend “he” who trusts the smarts of folks smart enough to read Gil’s blog. Albeit per a good LOL, yippee ay!

  3. So so sorry Sandy, but “he” got something correct finally. Umami Burger is just a tad down Hermosa Ave., i.e. just south of Pier Ave which I see is now closed to vehicles to the west wherein lies The LightHouse!!!
    ~ Be that as it may, apparently you might find one closer to home under ‘Locations’ here and also click Classic Burgers tab for the “Hatch Burger”‘s supposed ingredients! (Sorry, I have no idea why “he” doesn’t include links!!!) Nevertheless, don’t overlook a Combo to include Jazz at the Lighthouse to ‘report’ to us…LOL
    ~ RE “Less traffic back in the day.” LOL & OMG, Where is “Your” Day? I only distinctly remember writing my Folks “on paper” in ’58 (i.e. before email, 0 Long Distant pay-phone charges) describing my utter amazement about never seen before Freeways (not even in Baaahstan) (albeit before The 405), where one could see as far as the eye could see, headlights and tailights spread bumpaah to bumpaah across at least 5 lanes of traffic in either direction AT 2 O’CLOCK IN THE FREEKIN MORNING!!!!! LOL…each and every weekend.

  4. Ya know Sandy, if FGFABQ ever gives ya the name of the place in Manhattan Beach for that supposed GCCB and it turns out to be a bust for having driven 50 minutes, you can at least catch some great dessert by tootling justa mile down the road to The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach for some Jazz that’s been cool there since the late ’40s! (“Nothing” exists since the ’40s LOl) Go south on Manhattan Ave which becomes Hermosa Ave and turn right on Pier Ave! Call them to see if anything plays in the afternoons. I was surprised it took so long to SilverLake(?)as I swear it only took me about 30 min. on my Vespa to USC, albeit it was on the surface streets…back in the day!

  5. Two comments.
    For Sandy, there is a burger joint in Manhattan Beach CA that does have a GCCB using “NM Chiles”.
    Aside from costing the proverbial arm and a leg it was very good.
    For Gil, The Dallas Cowboys may be America’s Team as far as Texans are concerned but the rest of America, as in America’s Team, knows in their heart of hearts that Tony Romo will never win the Super Bowl for the Cowboys. Biggest mistakes in pro football history? Allowing Jerry Jones to become an owner and letting him terrorize the sidelines, and secondly, allowing Tony Romo to call the plays. Biggest mistakes since Richard Nixon said, “Get John Dean, he’ll know what to do.”
    Wow, that venting was like a Lamaze cleansing breath.
    Let’s go Giants.

    1. OK……..I’ll bite. What’s the name of the Manhattan Beach restaurant? I will drive that far for a really good GCCB! Is it MB Post, by any chance? Thanks in advance!

    2. El Brute-That was offensive. I lived in Metropolitan Dallas when Crafty Clint Murchison founded the Cowboys and 15-years of watching his unethical (I was going to use another word but can’t hire enough lawyers to fight the family’s) I can assure you that the Cowboys may be America’s team but will never be mine.

  6. Hi Gil! I always appreciate your descriptions! However for me personally, a ‘shade over medium’ would be way overdone. I order burgers (and steaks) med-rare and sometimes on the rare side. A good way to photo a burger is to put the top bun on, cut the burger in half, and photograph it from the level of the burger, showing the cut side. To me, a good burger should have juices running into the bun.

    Incidentally, Hatch Chiles are really catching on here in LA. Last weekend, my local supermarket (Gelson’s) spent all day Saturday roasting and selling them! Now if someone would just make a GCCB! 🙂

  7. Hi Gil! I have to say the GCCB here looks pretty awful ….. like an overcooked beef patty that doesn’t come close to covering the bun. And that strange little dab of mustard, which I assume was the way the burger was delivered? When cooks make a sandwich, they should care enough to uniformly cover the bun with whatever accoutrements are wanted or offered. Putting the raw onion, lettuce and tomato UNDER the bun isn’t very attractive either.

    The Green Chile Stew looks good but sounds from your description like they should have served it with a side of spicy help!

    Now the GCCB on the review for the Alley Cantina looks fabulous, along with the fries. A burger should cover the bun like this. I think I’ll put the Alley on my list for my next visit to beautiful NM!

    1. Hi Sandy

      The GCCB actually tasted much better than it looked despite its blemishes and warts. Even though the beef patty didn’t cover the bun, it was rather thick and was prepared at just a shade over medium so it had the requisite moistness (three napkins).

      All these years you’ve given me so many tips on photography and I’m afraid my photography skills haven’t improved much. Hopefully my descriptions paint a more vivid picture.


  8. Hi Gil,
    A commnent on the Stray Dog name…NM Tourism Secretary Monique Jacobson’s dad is Jean Mayer, who has owned and operated the TSV St. Bernard more or less forever. Monique told me that Tim had worked for her dad and, when Tim went out on his own, the name was in homage to his leaving the “Big Dog” St. Bernard. Good trivia!

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.