Red or Green: New Mexico’s Food Scene Is On Fire–March, 2020

Green Chile Cheeseburger with Fries from El Patio on Rio Grande

“The person with whom you would most want to travel.” That’s usually a description reserved for friends and family, but might also apply to Samantha Brown, one of the most down-to-earth and engaging personalities on television. Long a fixture on The Travel channel, in 2017 Samantha created a new show on PBS called “Samantha Brown’s Places to Love.” Her fun-loving style and an approach that is “less expert, less host and more a person you would want to travel with” has made her a favorite with those of us who live vicariously with others fortunate enough to travel this wide, wonderful, wondrous world. From among all the places to which she’s traveled, Samantha returns most often to Santa Fe.

In season two of Places to Love, Samantha showcased New Mexico’s state capital, introducing viewers to the city’s cultural and historical diversity as well as Santa Fe’s culinary scene. She enjoyed a breakfast burrito at Tia Sophia’s where she was joined by Ricardo Cate, the country’s only Native American cartoonist in a mainstream newspaper. For dinner, Samantha visited Tomasita’s, a Santa Fe institution for Northern New Mexican cuisine. At a time when most of us are sequestered at home, watching this episode will bring a smile to your face at the prospect of once again being able to travel to places we love and enjoy our favorite foods at the restaurants which bring joy and sustenance to our lives.

NM Baby from Lila & Liam Bistro in Rio Rancho (Photo Courtesy of Sarita)

USA Today’s 10Best feature purports to provide trusted travel and lifestyle advice to its readers. All too often I’ve called into question the credibility of such features when they’re written by travel or culinary experts who don’t actually live within New Mexico’s enchanted borders. That wasn’t the case when photographer extraordinaire Bruce Terzes alerted me to a 10Best feature entitled “The best green chile cheeseburger in New Mexico.” Seeing Ashley Biggers name on the byline gave the article instant credibility. Unlike so many other “experts,” Ashley actually calls Albuquerque home.

So, when Ashley says New Mexico’s best green chile cheeseburger comes from Sparky’s in Hatch, it would behoove us to heed her words. Sparky’s is the brainchild of husband and wife duo Teako and Josie Nunn who were recently nominated for a James Beard Award in the Best Chef: Southwest category. What makes Sparky’s sacrosanct burger so special. Teako “keeps the burger recipe simple, allowing the ingredients to shine. It starts with ground Black Angus chuck. The staff makes the patties fresh each morning and sizzles them on a 700-degree grill until the patties char. We don’t cloud the burger with mushrooms or Swiss cheese or fancy add-ons.”

Baba Ghanoush from Jerusalem: A Taste of the Holy Land in Rio Rancho

March 14th is National Pie Day, a celebration of Pi, a constant value used in math that represents the ratio of a circumference of a circle to its diameter (about 3.14). My friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, can probably carry pi out to a million digits, but for the non-scientific types among us, carrying home one slice of pie is probably more important. In honor of National Pie Day, Google compiled a list of the most uniquely searched pies in each state. Google data reveals that the most unique pie searched for by New Mexicans is millionaire pie, a choice which has just a bit more credibility than another Google search analysis claiming that before the Super Bowl, New Mexicans were obsessed with pea and peppercorn mash. (Thank you, Alonna Smith)

February, 2020

Torta De Huevo with Calabasitas and Frijoles from ABQ City Limits

Time Magazine is credited with being the first to call the James Beard Awards, “the Oscars of the food world,” and the term has caught on. Celebrating their 30th year, James Beard Awards are widely considered most coveted and comprehensive honor a chef, restaurant or culinary professional can achieve. The James Beard Foundation list of semifinalists for 2020 includes several chef luminaries from the Land of Enchantment:

  • Chef Johnny Ortiz of Shedin La Madera was nominated for the Rising Star Chef of the Year award. Chef Ortiz, who was profiled in an article in the March, 2020 edition of New Mexico Magazine, forages for or raises the ingredients with which he prepares his reservation-only meals.
  • Josie and Teako Nunn of Sparky’s Burgers, Barbeque, & Espresso in Hatch were nominated in the Best Chef: Southwest category (Arizona, Nevada, Oklahoma and New Mexico). Their nomination is somewhat of a departure from the Foundation’s leaning toward fine-dining establishments, but is certainly well-deserved.
  • Chef Fernando Olea of Santa Fe’s Sazon was nominated in the Best Chef: Southwest category. Recognized as the 2019 Restaurateur of the Year by the New Mexico Restaurant Association, Chef Olea is a beloved local institution in the state capital.
  • Chef Jonathan Perno, executive chef of Campo at Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm, was nominated in the Best Chef Southwest category. The six time semifinalist is a native New Mexican who has coined the term Rio Grande Valley Cuisine.
Lamburger from the Marigold Cafe

Food writer Laurie Colwin declared “To feel safe and warm on a cold wet night, all you really need is soup.” Temperatures dropped to 25-degrees on February 1st, 2020, but an estimated 1,200 people who attended Santa Fe’s 26th annual Souper Bowl fundraiser felt safe and warm after having enjoyed soups prepared by 24 Santa Fe chefs. Soups were evaluated in four categories: savory, vegetarian, cream and seafood.

  • Agave Restaurant and Lounge took the savory category with its winter squash soup topped with granny smith apples, pumpkin seeds and mole onions.
  • The seafood soup category was won by the Santa Fe School of Cooking with avocado gazpacho with seared scallops.
  • Multi-time Souper Bowl award-winner Jambo Café won the vegetarian category with a ginger coconut and parsnip soup.
  • Del Charro at the Inn of the Governors earned the best creamy soup distinction with its creamy green chile chicken chowder.
  • The best soup honor went to L’Olivier for its chocolate cherry Espelette pepper soup, a chocolate cream-based soup topped with almonds and chile cherries.

Proceeds from the Souper Bowl benefit The Food Depot, which serves more than 440,000 meals per month to people in Northern New Mexico.

Spectacular Mural at Urban Taqueria Honors the Evolution of Mexican Cuisine

Chef’s Pencil, a website which purports to feature content for all levels of cooks and foodies uses data to support its contention that “while Americans’ food choices are incredibly varied, there is a clear battle for supremacy at the top of the charts.” Using Google analytics, Chef’s Pencil crunched the numbers of internet searches for ethnic cuisines to determine the most popular ethnic cuisines in America. The two most popular ethnic cuisines were deemed to be Mexican and Chinese. Denizens of the East prefer Chinese cuisine while the West goes for the Mexican food. Data shows that Mexican cuisine is the most popular ethnic cuisine in 27 states–including New Mexico. Obviously, the data doesn’t distinguish between Mexican and New Mexican or even between Mexican and Tex Mex. According to KRQE, New Mexicans are pretty expressive about their preference for New Mexican cuisine.

Eat This, Not That!, a website which claims to cover all aspects of…”food trends, and the best and worst foods on the planet” used Yelp data to assemble a list of the best Italian restaurant in every state. Savvy Yelp critics love Rio Rancho’s Joe’s Pasta House, a paragon of pizza and exemplar of service excellence. Here’s what the site had to say about Joe’s: “For an excellent sit-down Italian experience with a bit of added southwest flair, nothing can compare to Joe’s Pasta House when you visit New Mexico. The menu boasts a classic mix of Sicilian favorites like gnocchi and veal marsala alongside New Mexican green chile ravioli, making it a great standout from the average Italian eatery. When you feel tired of the same old Italian and want an eatery with a twist, it can’t get better than this.”

The “Cheesy Beef” an Italian Beef Sandwich Blanketed in Melted Provolone from AK Deli

Eat This, Not That! knows “there’s something special about eating a gourmet burger—one that has fancy condiments, a special bun, or a slice of artisanal cheese.” Its compilations of the best burger in every state shows the vast diversity and creativity of burgers in the gourmet genre. Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun don’t fit the bill anymore, especially when you can drive to Roswell to enjoy a tomahawk burger at Big D’s Downtown Dive. Here’s what Eat This, Not That! had to say: “An open-faced burger? It’s a real thing at this New Mexico joint. Loaded with guacamole, black beans, iceberg lettuce, and more, this burger is simply too massive to fit between two buns.”

As revered as James Beard may be, every once in a while he displayed a rather condescending nature. For example, he once declared that “Too few people understand a really good sandwich.” That statement might be true of Subway’s devotees, but by and large, the United States is a nation which loves and understands its sandwiches. So does Eat This, Not That! which put together a list of the absolute best sandwich in every state. As decreed by Yelp critics, New Mexico’s best sandwich is the green chile meatball sub at 2G’s Bistro in Albuquerque: “Not only can you get some of the best sandwiches in town at this bistro, but you can also get some of the best brunches at this place, too. At 2G’s Bistro, you can choose from tuna sliders, a green chile meatballs sub, or even a carne burrito sandwich. Evidently, the green chile meatball sub is to die for. One Yelp reviewer goes as far to say that the first bite melts into your mouth.”

Torta de Barbacoa from Elotes Del Rancho in Rio Rancho

Food & Wine advises that “for pilgrimage-worthy breakfasts, late-night hangs, and one-of-a-kind regional dishes,” readers should look to the classics anointed “the best diners in America.” Food & Wine’s choice as New Mexico’s very best diner is Santa Fe’s revered institution, The Pantry: “Blue corn hot cakes redolent with cinnamon, home fries mingling with red chile, omelets bursting with chorizo, carne adovada with your scrambs—let’s say you weren’t so much feeling those New Mexico vibes before you got here, to one of the state capital’s most iconic restaurants; one breakfast should put you right, and then some. Since the 1940s, this has been a prime go-to for locals and visitors, and while it’s rare to find a diner this famous holding itself to such a high standard, that’s what keeps everyone coming back, no matter how busy the place can get. Consider returning later in the day—the restaurant’s green chile is some of the most sought-after in town.”

Round up the usual suspects” seems to be the unintended operating practice of The Daily Meal whose monthly “best” lists seem to be repeats of the previous year’s lists. As an essayist of New Mexico’s culinary condition, it’s hard for me to believe something new and different hasn’t come around to supplant the favorites of yesteryear, maybe something like Shugarman’s Little Chocolate Shop in Madrid which earned “Best Chocolate Shop” distinction for the Land of Enchantment. Here are February’s other Daily Meal choices:

January, 2020

Carne Adovada Plate From New Mexico Beef Jerky Company

Around the world while the city still sleeps, you begin.  Some of you because that’s what your parents did.  Others, you’re the first of your kind.  But all of you are one.  Siblings in an ancient tradition.  You take the time, temperature and love.  You bring them together to make something that brings people together.  You make more than just food.  You make friendships.  You make joy.  And for a hundred years, Dawn has been right there with you.  So this is for you, for bakers everywhere.  Thank you for letting us be part of your story.  Here’s to the next chapter together.  Here’s to bakers.” Albuquerque’s beloved Golden Crown Panaderia was one of five bakeries across the globe selected to be featured in a new spot for Dawn Foods. The advertisement, which showcases the work bakers do each morning, followed the father-son tandem of Pratt and Christopher Morales as they get Albuquerque ready for the day with the best baked goods in town.  It’s a touching tribute to true unsung heroes: Dawn 100 Years | Thank You

Yelp’s Top 100 Places to Eat is a list unlike any other “best of” out there. Sure, you’ll see your fancy-schmancy spots and white tablecloth restaurants, but it’s also chock full of hidden gems and off-the-beaten-path joints.”  “To determine Yelp’s Top Places to Eat in 2020, Yelp’s data science team pulled the top restaurants by ratings and number of reviews in 2019 across the U.S., with representation based on each place’s share of top-rated restaurants nationally, then curated the list with the expertise of our Community Managers around the country to finalize the rankings.”  Only one eatery across the Land of Enchantment made Yelp’s sacrosanct list, but it’s a great one.  Dia De Los Takos, purveyor of perhaps the best tacos you’ll ever have ranked 56th in the country, quite a coup for a mobile food kitchen (that’s food truck to you, Bob).

Golden Crown Panaderia, One of Five Bakeries Worldwide Honored

If I can make it there I’ll make it anywhere. It’s up to you New York, New York.” Albuquerque native Eric See is certainly making it big time in the Big Apple and he’s doing so by introducing Hatch green chile to big city sophisticates. In fact, every time diners visit his restaurant, The Awkward Scone, they’re transported to the Land of Enchantment because every aspect of the menu includes some nuance of chile. Dishes such as green chile, cheddar scones, green chile cheddar apple pie with rosemary and three types of breakfast burritos are flying off the menu. In a recent profile, Eater NY explained that all the chile is shipped directly from New Mexico to the Brooklyn-based cafe.

The Daily Meal acknowledges that “each state has its own regional comfort foods and iconic restaurant dishes,” but discovering “what is the absolute best thing to order, and where can you get it” can be a conundrum.  To make it easy for the travelers among us, The Daily Meal compiled a list of the “Absolute Best Thing to Eat in Every State.”  Best in the Land of Enchantment is the “astounding” green chile cheeseburger from the Santa Fe Bite in the state capital.  “These burgers start with a 10-ounce chuck-sirloin patty, which is seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic salt and onion salt as it sears on a griddle. A heaping spoonful of roasted and chopped Hatch green chiles (a New Mexico claim to culinary fame) is piled on top, followed by a melting layer of LaBlatt Swiss-American cheese. It’s placed onto a custom-made brioche-style bun and served alongside some housemade potato chips.”  (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)

Appetizers from Jerusalem: Taste of the Holy Land

Does anyone else believe the title of the Denver Post article “Albuquerque — yes, Albuquerque — is the next foodie destination you need to visit” is maybe just a bit condescending?  Or maybe it just shows how relatively unknown the Duke City is as a mecca for dining.  The author does make up for it by declaring “you’re missing out on foodie heaven” if you limit yourself to Santa Fe or Taos.  Her own Duke City dining discoveries included Campo at Los Poblanos where “the menu changes seasonally, but you can’t go wrong, especially if you order something with lavender in it.”  She also visited Vernon’s Hidden Valley Steakhouse which “has a classy, old-timey vibe and no windows to the outside world, so it truly feels like a hidden bar from the early 1900s.”   For “traditional New Mexican fare” she recommends El PintoShe also recommends a visit to Mas Tapas Y Vino where you should “bring a huge appetite, or recruit a few friends to join you for the weekend so you can justify the number of plates you’ll want to order.” 

Gastro Obscura invites readers to “eat like pre-Columbian Native Americans” at Pueblo Harvest, the commodious restaurant within the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.  Pueblo Harvest now offers a dinner which showcases pre- and post-contact options.  The dividing line is 1492, the year Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue. “The “Pre-Contact” menu eschews the staple beef, chicken, wheat, butter, sugar, and rice that anchor “American” cuisine altogether; it’s a love letter to New Mexico’s original inhabitants, a smattering of indigenous ingredients upheld and shaped by modern culinary techniques.”  If you prefer burgers, salads and “mixed-Mexican options you’d expect from a New Mexican restaurant,” you can order from the Post-Contact menu. 

A Hundred Dollar Burger from The Grill

Gene Simmons, the frontman for the rock band Kiss, pondered the existential question “why is it that most of the folks I know think “personal growth” is caused entirely by those second and third helpings of biscuits and gravy?”   Biscuits can certainly be credited for a lot of personal growth across the fruited plain.  Great American Country, which purports to “brings you all things Americana” worked with the International Biscuit Festival to compile a list of the best biscuit in every state.  New Mexico’s best is the biscuit sandwich with sausage and housemade green chile jam which can be found only at Albuquerque’s Hartford Square.  Great American Country noted: “Focused on quality and service, the cozy Harford Square cafe changes their menu weekly and provides that at-home comfortable atmosphere.  (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)

Far & Wide employed “a mix of objective research and totally subjective opinion” to assess each “U.S. state’s signature foods and diversity of offerings to come up with” a “worst-to-best ranking of America’s food scenes by state.”  So where does the Land of Enchantment rank in this pantheon of pathetic and superb food scenes?  New Mexico ranked 34th, one spot higher than Arizona and 13th spots behind Colorado which is praised for its “green chili.”  Here’s what Far & Wide had to say about New Mexico’s culinary landscape: “Plenty of people enjoy a Santa Fe Chicken Salad, but we think putting chips and beans in a salad doesn’t make it New Mexican or good, and that the whole thing is kind of suspect. Add to that an obsession with the Frito Pie — a big pile of Fritos topped with chili — and you can see where New Mexico’s problems arise. On the flipside, the state does boast some delicious food in Santa Fe (besides the aforementioned salad!), with red and/or green chilis adding a healthy kick to meals.”

The colorful interior of Bandido Hideout

The term “relish” is very versatile; it can be used both as a noun (a condiment eaten with other food to add flavor) and as a verb (to take pleasure in; enjoy fully).  Relish is also the name of one of Albuquerque’s very best sandwich restaurants.  In its compilation of the best sandwich in every state, MSN Lifestyle listed Relish’s Albuquerque Turkey sandwich as New Mexico’s very best.  According to MSN Lifestyle: “It’s not unusual to see a line at this Uptown joint, focused on epicurean sandwiches made fresh with organic produce every day. Relish’s menu makes good use of hatch chiles (the green chili that New Mexico is famed for), with crowds snapping up the Albuquerque Turkey. Combining toasted sourdough heavy with roasted turkey, havarti cheese, chipotle mayo and the kicking green chili, it’s consistently good.”

The Daily Meal believes “there are certain dishes across the country that are undeniably iconic,” but what really makes them special is that some “regional specialties are somehow just not as good outside of their home state — if you’re even able to find them elsewhere.”  To make “your next vacation a little bit easier we’ve tracked down not only the one dish you absolutely must try in every state and Washington, D.C., but also the best restaurants at which to try them.”  The must try dish in New Mexico is green chile stew: “Green chiles work their way into just about every dish in New Mexico, but there’s no better way to sample them than in a simple stew. Going strong since 1960, The Shed is one of Santa Fe’s most renowned restaurants, and quite possibly the best place in the state to get your fix of dishes prepared with New Mexico’s famed Hatch chiles. The green chile stew here is made with roasted chiles, potatoes and chunks of lean pork. It’s everything that’s great about New Mexican cuisine in one iconic bowl of stew.”  (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)

Double Meat Green Chile Cheeseburger from Santiago’s New Mexican Grill

American comedian Demetri Martin called sports bars “great” because “they collect all of the people I don’t want to hang out with, and put them in one room.”  Some of us enjoy sports bars because of the adult beverages proffered therein.  Others of us enjoy the food, especially at gastropubs where the food is several legions better than the pub grub of yore.  Others like sports bars because they often have several large screen televisions in which we can watch the Dallas Cowboys and inferior sports teams.  Most of us like them for a combination of all three factors.  Whatever your reason for enjoying sports bars, The Daily Meal compiled a list of “the best sports bar in every state.”  New Mexico’s best is the Boxcar Bar and Grill in Santa Fe: “Boxcar Bar and Grill in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has just the right combination of eats, drinks and sports. This spot has the longest bar in the city, carries NFL Sunday Ticket and has numerous big TVs and 30 draft beer options with selections from local brewers. It serves brunch, lunch and dinner with Southwestern twists like Hatch green chile mac ‘n’ cheese as well as New Mexico’s most iconic pie: Frito pie.”  (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)

Cookbook author and television personality James Beard called crème brûlée “one of the greatest desserts in the realm of cooking.”  Julia Child was partial to île flottante, also known as the floating island dessert while Food Network celebrity chef Bobby Flay’s favorite dessert is the banana split.  If you’re looking to satisfy your sweet tooth, The Daily Meal compiled a list of local favorites designated the best places in each state to get dessert.  The sweetest dessert shop in New Mexico was deemed to be Kakawa Chocolate House in Santa Fe: “There are plenty of places to grab a drink in Santa Fe, but the sweetest sips in town can be found at Kakawa Chocolate House, which is famous for its drinking chocolate. Flavors range from sweet to bitter to spicy, and if you can’t decide, opt for a flight to sample four. Other chocolate creations include truffles, ice cream, brownies and cookies as well as New Mexico-inspired treats like chocolate-dipped peppers and Hatch green chile caramels.” (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)

At Rebel Donut in Albuquerque, you can pick up the very best kind of six pack

The Daily Meal took it one step further by focusing on one specific dessert favorite. Its compilation of the best doughnuts in every state listed ” fresh, warm, pillowy doughnuts coated in glaze, dusted in cinnamon sugar” and topped with imagination and creativity.  New Mexico’s very best doughnut is Albuquerque’s Rebel Donut which continues to earn accolades from local and national media.  The Daily Meal noted: “At Rebel Donuts in Albuquerque, New Mexico, guests can choose from the “Usual Suspects,” a menu that features standard doughnuts made fresh by hand each morning, or from the “Radicals” menu. “Radical” doughnuts are described as being for people who “want to live on the edge” and range from The Dough Boy — a chocolate-chip cake doughnut — to The Munchies — a vanilla cake donut hand-dipped in fudge with peanuts, pretzels, potato chips and M&M’s on top.”  (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)

In the decades since its debut on American shores in the 1960s, the sushi scene has come a long way. Today, there are almost too many sushi restaurants to count, many of which have much more on offer than the standard California roll.”  To compile its list of the “Best Sushi Restaurant in Every State,”  The Daily Meal “looked at Japanese restaurants that specialize in sushi and are highly rated by local publications, on user-generated review sites and in pre-existing regional and local rankings.”  Named New Mexico’s best sushi was Albuquerque’s Fareast Fuzion.  The Daily Meal indicated “It’s all in the name: Fareast Fuzion features top-level Asian fusion food from Japanese to Chinese and Thai. Guests can enjoy a meal at the sushi bar, a table or the outdoor terrace.”  (Thank you, Becky Mercuri)

Esteemed Judges at the 2020 Souper Bowl (Photo Courtesy of the Roadrunner Food Bank)

On the Saturday preceding some ballyhooed professional football game, Albuquerque’s Roadrunner Food Bank hosts its largest fund-raising event, the Souper Bowl. More than 1,000 guests visited the sprawling food bank warehouse to enjoy scrumptious soups and delectable desserts from nearly 40 Albuquerque area restaurants. Thirteen restaurants were picked as the top winning restaurants in the categories of soup, vegetarian soup, dessert and best booth from votes cast by guests selecting their top restaurants.  Winning restaurants were:

People’s Choice Winners – Soup
1st Place and Souper Bowl Champion: Ohana Hut
2nd Place: Sage Dining Services at Albuquerque Academy
3rd Place: Turtle Mountain Brewing Co.

People Choice Winners – Vegetarian Soup
1st Place: Vic’s Daily Café
2nd Place: Rosemary
3rd Place: Artichoke Cafe

People Choice Winners – Desserts
1st Place: Theobroma Chocolatier
2nd Place: Nothing Bundt Cakes
3rd Place: Church Street Cafe

People Choice Winner – Best Booth: D.H. Lescombes Winery and Bistro

A panel of celebrity judges selected the top three awards as part of the Critics’ Choice judging during a blind tasting. The 2020 Critics’ Choice awards winners were:

Critics’ Choice Winners
1st Place: Sage Dining Services at Albuquerque Academy
2nd Place: Slow Roasted Bocadillos
3rd Place: Ohana Hut

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.

View all posts by Gil Garduno →

16 Comments on “Red or Green: New Mexico’s Food Scene Is On Fire–March, 2020”

  1. Hi Tom:

    I couldn’t reply directly to your post on George Geary and his book “LA’s Legendary Restaurants” – Gil’s site only allows a certain number of replies to comments so here goes. Yes, it’s pricey for the hard cover and hard to find. B & N has it as an ebook for $17.99.

    I’m not terribly familiar with Geary but he is an award-winning chef and seems to sell a lot of books. On Goodreads, the reviews gave him a 4.3 out of 5 rating. For a much better look at his book, check this out: http://santamonicapress.com/celebrating-the-famous-places-where-hollywood-ate-drank-and-playedl-a-s-legendary-restaurants/

  2. Gil – who is this Tzerkes person you mention and why is he using my web photo page? I thought I was your “photographer extraordinaire”!

    1. Thanks, Becky, for the link. I have never seen a single episode of a Samantha Brown show. Watched the Santa Fe episode and found her to be an enthusiastic portal for viewers to experience the wonderful land-scapes, art-scapes, and food-scapes of New Mexico.

      Gee, in the 15 years I have been a New Mexico resident I have never had a “red chile rimmed” margarita! Question for you: In the Tomasita’s segment, the owner defined “Northern New Mexican-style cooking” as “red and green chile. That’s it. No other definition.

      As a corollary to the above, how would cooks at Chope’s in Las Cruces describe “Southern New Mexican-style” cooking given its wonderful red and green chile dishes?

      1. Hi Tom:

        I’m glad you enjoyed the Samantha Brown episode on Santa Fe. If you’re not already familiar with it, you might want to look into the Santa Fe Margarita Trail – there are some very unique versions featured by the various participating restaurants and bars: https://www.santafenewmexican.com/life/taste/santa-fe-s-margarita-trail-adds-destinations-for-lovers-of/article_ae746e82-de4a-5d56-ab7c-0fba893cb5ae.html.

        As for Southern versus Northern New Mexican styles of cooking, I daresay we might need Gil to write up some kind of tome like “New Mexican Cuisine for Dummies”. Lacking that immediate reference, Gil may well correct me on a lot of my observations but here goes.

        As a result of your question and after looking up a ton of information, I’d venture to guess that the geographic location of an establishment prompts them to use the related description of either Southern or Northern. From there, it seems that Southern New Mexico cooking is more simplistic and basic whereas Northern cooking, as claimed by Santa Fe, can sometimes be a bit more sophisticated.

        The enchilada provides an example – there are obvious crossovers where you see both rolled or stacked enchiladas. Enchiladas served Christmas style are popular from one end of New Mexico to the other. I’ve noticed that blue corn tortillas are common in Northern cooking but rare in the South. Gil has often noted that stacked enchiladas are more typical in the North – as served at Tomasita’s – versus rolled, as served at Chope’s.

        So – it apparently comes down to the chile itself. As a sommelier, you’ll appreciate the fact that terroir has a lot to do with chiles but I won’t get into that here. Chope’s would seemingly describe Southern New Mexico cooking as based upon Southern New Mexico chiles aka the Hatch chile. For example, Gil describes Chope’s red chile thusly: “The red chile is a deep red, wholly unlike most of the red chile served in restaurants throughout northern New Mexico. The color and flavor are reminiscent of a good chile Caribe (concentrated chile made from dried red chile pods, blended and processed to a smooth consistency)”. Chile Caribe concentrate is often used as the basis for Southern New Mexico chile which means it can be pretty incendiary.

        On the other hand, Northern New Mexico is fond of the Chimayo chile which is now so expensive that a substitution is generally made. The Chimayo is commonly described as “sweet, earthy, and smoky, without being too hot”. When a substitute is used, such as Hatch red chile powder, it will likely be quite a bit milder than chile Caribe.

        1. Well now my brain is on parboil after reading this article titled “Delicias Cafe
          Shows Differences Between Southern and Northern New Mexican Food” in the ABQ Journal.

          https://www.abqjournal.com/1211946/delicias-cafeacute-shows-differences-between-southern-northern-new-mexican-food.html

          Which states, “Northern cuisine, inspired by pueblo culture and Santa Fe, is all about the heat and creative preparation; southern New Mexico food is reliable, consistent, easy.”

          Is this writer saying Northern NM food has more heat? I am not convinced. Perhaps Gil can convince me?

          And yet, we have Gil’s review of Delicias Cafe in 2016: https://www.nmgastronome.com/?p=14851 within which he waxes wonderful about Delicias “Mexican-style” food.

          I suspect the differences of southern v northern is, as you say Becky, a matter of proximity, and is best explored geographically and culturally. Maybe even politically?

          1. Tom, I was confused by that review, too, but after I re-read Gil’s extensive review of Delicias, I agree with you. From what I understand, they serve Mexican-style food, not New Mexican food, and there are plenty of references to jalapenos but not to New Mexican chile. Having traveled extensively in Mexico, I can honestly say I never found the food to be very “hot” or spicy. Nor have I ever found native American cuisine to be especially hot or spicy. If it’s supposed to be, then I must be eating in all the wrong places. With that said, my money is on Gil when it comes to defining and reviewing food – he knows his chile – and I think the author of that article was quite possibly mistaken.

            With that said, I’m pretty sure you can find examples of hot and spicy food all over New Mexico but we were discussing chile, not jalapenos. And the definition of “hot” varies with individuals as well as chiles. It’s increasingly hard to make general statements because so much of today’s cuisine is “imported” from other areas or it becomes fusion cooking in some way or anther. As you point out, it’s likely best to explore regional food geographically and historically / culturally. I’m abstaining from any political exploration which, in today’s environment, is just looking for trouble.

          2. Put a savvy foodie from Las Cruces and a gastronome from Albuquerque in the same room (preferably not a kitchen well stocked with knives) and you’re bound to start a culinary civil war. Such was the case when I worked at Intel with a colleague who was born-and-bred in the City of Crosses. We were both adamant that the cuisine in our half of the state (mine being the upper half) was far superior to cuisine in the other (lower in her case) half. We debated every nuance that made our preferred cuisine distinctive from the other. We argued about the prominence of Mexican and Native American culinary influences, the preferred degree of piquancy in each region, whether or not cumin has any place in New Mexican cuisine, even whether the biscochito can truly be New Mexico’s official state cookie if it’s not as common in Southern New Mexico.

            My colleague would frequently accuse all “Norteños” (and by extension, me) of thinking we were superior to denizens of the Southern part of the state. She railed that Norteños believe ourselves to be “pure-blooded” Spaniards transplanted to the new land, bypassing Mexico entirely. She boasted that Southern New Mexicans, on the other hand, were proudly intermixed with Mexicans. In her estimation these differences even manifested themselves in the way Norteños regard our cuisine—as better, more delicious…more pure.

            The truth is, the two cuisines probably don’t differ enough to warrant a heated debate. There is as much to love in New Mexican cuisine in the North as there is in the South. Moreover, the distinction between the two isn’t usually determined broadly by geographical location, but at a more finite level–by kitchen. In every kitchen across the Land of Enchantment, New Mexicans prepare our beloved cuisine differently…just as they have for generations. Discerning diners should shout “Viva La Differencia” with mucho gusto. What could be more fun than exploring the subtleties of New Mexican cuisine prepared with just a delicate gradation of difference?

            One culinary commonality, of course, is the love both Norteños and residents of Southern New Mexico have for chile. There’s a reason it’s the Land of Enchantment’s official state vegetable. When it comes to piquancy, however, it’s been my experience that some New Mexicans–irrespective of region–like their chile hot and some don’t. Neither region’s denizens can claim superior tolerance to chiles with a high concentration of capsaicinoids. And while Norteños can boast of the superiority of Chimayo red, there’s just not enough of it produced to sate us all. Most of the chiles used throughout the state do come from the state’s lower half–Hatch, of course, but also Lemitar, Socorro, Deming, Jarales and other fecund areas.

            Rather than squabbling like the prickly, contentious British Parliament, my colleague and I could have spared ourselves hours of rancor by breaking sopaipillas together at restaurants in both Northern and Southern New Mexico. With detente based on a shared meal, we might even have become friends. Think of the missed opportunities to compare the best of the north against its southern counterpart

            Insofar as the Albuquerque Journal review, I suspect Jason has probably heard an earful about his faux pas in proclaiming Delicia’s Café as an exemplar of the differences between Northern and Southern New Mexico’s cuisine. Delicia’s may showcase dishes similar to those served across the Land of Enchantment (and even across our eastern border in Tex-Mex restaurants), but at Delicia’s they’re prepared in the style of Northern Mexico (not NEW Mexico). Thank goodness we have options, subtle and nuanced though they may be sometimes. Life would be boring if it were more homogeneous.

    2. Well darn ya Mz Becky for piquing my interest beyond what should have actually occurred by Gil’s enticing references…the sharing RE Sam Brown! Seriously? How distracting trying to watch these travelogues by having such a fetchingly vivacious Chica Honchaing them!? Additionally, I was depressingly reminded of letting my ‘traveling’ wane over the years which stirs up the thorn of jealousy.
      I did manage to watch Orange County and then Fanta Se whereby I had to pause. Interestingly and pleasantly unexpectedly, she takes you (well maybe just me) somewhat off the beaten tourist path in both: e.g. I never heard of the Dale Ball nature trail on the eastern edge of SF, nor knew of the art collection now since my last visit to The Roundhouse, nor that the culinary foundress of Tomasitas was Greek…as so many were in my MA hometown which neighbors hers of NH…and that Georgia appreciates one of my FAV Folk artists https://www.victoriadealmeida.com/ as hanging in T’s. 
      One of the most jarring, for lack of a better term, feature in the SF episode is the revelation that there is such a person as an Indian Cartoonist of all things! https://tinyurl.com/qmdz7sc  Well ya….Du-uh!…albeit many Folk can be rather stoic-like/taciturn when it comes to humor.
      Lastly, while not to take away from her career’s individuality (whatever that means), a missing something for me is the ‘exclusion’ sorta speak, of her behind-the-scenes, husband.

      1. Hi Bob :

        I’m very happy that you enjoyed a couple of the Samantha Brown shows. I thought you’d like them. She has a very creative and refreshing approach and covers a lot of things that are new to many of us. You can see her with her husband Kevin O’Leary and their twins on an Oregon RV road trip in season one. I think Kevin is the producer of her shows.

        Ricardo Tate, the Native American cartoonist featured in her Santa Fe show, is a New Mexico treasure. His cartoons are funny but very poignant.

        If you’re interested in travel shows, many of the Rick Steves shows can be viewed on line – click on any country of interest and you’ll get a full listing of all relevant shows. The link is https://www.ricksteves.com/watch-read-listen/video/tv-show.

        While I’m on the subject of videos, you might be interested in a few of those posted on line by the Culinary Historians of Southern California – they’re basically lectures given by various food authorities and some are way better than others. Once at the web site, scroll down to “more articles” and you’ll see a full listing. The web site is: https://www.chsocal.org/.

        1. Yo Thanks for the references…am in the middle of a slo-playing vid…LOL…of an enjoyable George Geary…who I’ve never heard of before. I’ll be passing info on to a BLOG of Old LA Timers who are nostalgic about working and/or dining in LA ‘s casual and fine dining places “of an age”…LOL
          Be Best! Be Safe!
          PS…re RE Northern/Southern NM stuff: Faralito-Luminaria….Eh! ya can put the whole of your neighbor New England into NM with room left over. Talk about diversity! Ya gotcha lobstaah in Baah Haahbah compared to the nuances of Mystic Pizza while throwing in comparisons of Julia Roberts with Angela Lansbury, respectively!
          Sad to see the seafood industry is taking a licking back there per CoVid while NM suffers from dropping oil prices whereby 40% of NM state budget is from Extractive fees/taxes as income as oil rigs shut down. But I wander…..

          1. Bob, you must have watched the George Geary video on “LA’s Legendary Restaurants” – I loved it. He sure has some interesting stories that relate to his book of the same title. I’ve had that book on my “Want List” forever – one of these days I’ll get around to ordering it. I wish he’d do a book on LA delis – he mentioned several in his presentation including Canter’s, Langer’s, and Greenblatt’s.

            The LA Public Library has an excellent collection of old restaurant menus that you can search by restaurant name: https://www.lapl.org/collections-resources/lapl-indexes/menu-collection.

            The NY Public Library has an online menu collection that you can actually browse (at one time, you could browse the LA Public Library collection but I couldn’t find that capability again): http://menus.nypl.org/menus/28167.

            1. Becky, it appears Geary’s book is only available in hardcover (pub. 2016) and costs $26 to $30 Amazon Prime and even more on eBay. Perused the table of contents and identified many restaurants I frequented when I lived there (1978-1985) and later on business in the ’90s.

              Is Geary a good writer?

  3. Well I’m not going to rant about how come our Championship restaurant doesn’t get the accolades it deserves?
    Nothing even comes close to what Forghedaboudit Southwest Italian brings with unique delicious and consistently cutting edge.
    Visit us at TripAdvisor

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